Friday, 12 December 2008

Everything is breaking down

The tumble dryer has no heat. 
The dyson has no suction. There is a label on it that says 'never loses suction'.
The sky digibox is kaput. Even the man in the call centre agrees.
The printer does not print. (Yes, I tried new cartridges. Yes, I switched it off and on again.)
The DVD remote control is lost and the toddler boy is getting the blame. (Actually, I just found it after 2 weeks of searching. It was in the book case hidden from the kids - by me!)

Oh and MFI went bust before giving us a VAT receipt. They can't give us one now because they sold the printers. That is actually what they told me. They have still to replace a broken cabinet and a length of plinth. At least we got our kitchen.

My house is resembling a grubby laundry. Damp clothes hang everywhere. The carpets are thick with dust, hair, crumbs and God knows what else. My 4 year-old daughter said, "I wish our house was as clean as everybody else's." I could have died with shame.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Six things you may or may not want to know about me

I have been tagged by tarte tartan to write 6 things about myself.

I get great satisfaction from emptying a blocked pore.

I am scared I will get ill and die young.

I miss my Grandpa who died 2 years ago. I spent a lot of time with him and loved him dearly.

My husband proposed to me on a ferris wheel despite being scared of heights.

I am very indecisive. I can never make up my mind and sometimes feel frozen by the choices I have and end up doing nothing then regretting it. I always regret it when I let my head rule my heart. 

I want to be 18 again and make some different choices. It is true that youth is wasted on the young. Oh to be young again.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

there are beasts that roar in yonder hill

My wee girl and I went out into the garden at bedtime when it was very dark. We wanted to look at the stars as the night before had been magnificent. Millions upon millions of bright stars peppered the black sky. So we made a pact that once our toddler boy was in bed we would wrap up warm and go out to look at them. She was so excited to be going out to look at the stars but there were none. It was a cloudy night. I remembered we had a packet of glow sticks that I had bought for Hallowe'en guising but forgotten to take with us. We twirled them making tunnels and waves and circles. They painted the dark in yellow, blue and green.  The nosey next door neighbour opened her window to peer out at us. We ignored her and carried on having fun and swapping colours. A loud, deep roar erupted in the silence of the night. My wee girl bolted inside to the far end of the house. I ran after her to reassure her and coax her back out but there was no way she was going back out there. It was just a stag in a nearby hill. You could say she shows good instincts to flee from something with surging testosterone.

Friday, 7 November 2008

Hallowe'en in the village

Hallowe'en is traditionally observed in our village. That means the children go guising (not trick or treating) and we observe traditional customs such as dooking for apples. Pumpkins have become a feature of Hallowe'en relegating the turnip to a thing of the past. I had a lovely witches costume for my daughter but would she wear it? No. She didn't want to be a horrible witch she wanted to be a pretty ballerina. No amount of cajoling, threatening to go out guising without her worked. In the end she went as a ballerina. H took her and her little brother, dressed as a pumpkin, round the houses. My girl belted out a gaelic song in each house and they came home with a bag so heavy she couldn't carry it. 

After guising we went to the hotel for the Hallowe'en party. There were loads of children there and all in great disguise. I was worried my little boy would be scared but he joined in and was up dancing and running around screaming in delight. 

Once the children were settled in bed I went down to the hotel for the adults Hallowe'en party. It is an annual event that everyone makes a point of going to. This year I went as a witch - again. The funniest was when some of the villagers came dressed up as other villagers. People were meeting themselves. They all laughed. Everyone laughed. We played silly party games, rank and danced and just had good clean nonsense. 

The next night I stayed in while H played for a barn dance which was a shed warming party. It is a big shed.

We celebrated guy fawkes with the usual bonfire and fireworks. I don't actually know why we mark the occasion as it is an English event that happened before Scotland was joined to England in the Act of Union. The kids didn't come with me as my daughter doesn't like the bangs so refused to come and my little boy fell asleep in his high chair while rubbing potatoes into his hair. We are all exhausted as they haven't adjusted to the clocks going back so get up at 6am. 

The house is progressing well. The sewage and rainwater pipes are in and the ground has been levelled off by the digger and we have a large flattish garden area. It looks huge. Inside, is plodding on. The downturn in the building trade hasn't affected here yet. All our tradesmen are busy. 

We definitely won't be in for Christmas at this rate and we have decided to aim for sometime in January. It will be better to finish it and do a good job rather than cut corners and rush to get in. I just can't wait to live there and get out of this shoebox in a goldfish bowl. 

Sunday, 26 October 2008

village social life

We are working non-stop on the house and getting tired. There are just not enough hours in the day but this weekend I found time to socialise. A strange thing happens in our Highland village. As daylight gradually disappears and tourists largely disappear for the winter our social calendar suddenly fills up. It is our attempt to make the winter bearable and to prevent isolation setting in but it is also the time of year when many people have more free time to reconnect with their friends and their community. 

I joined my girl friends for a steak in the local hotel. Various locals joined us at different points in the evening and the craic was good. One of my friends is hilarious in her storytelling and had us all roaring with laughter. An estate manager joined us and periodically roared like a stag. Literally. It has just been rutting season when the roar of stags reverberated around the hills enclosing us. 

After several drinks we hatched a plan to go back to C's house and meet her visitors, including a childhood friend of her husbands. He had never met C before so we decided it would be funny to go into the house one by one and greet her husband with a familiar kiss on the cheek and say to the friend, "Hi, you must be S, I'm C, pleased to meet you." The poor guy was very confused but decided that I was definitely the real C. So I poured drinks and pretended to know how to work the stereo! Then we put on the music and started dancing. "Is it normally like this on a Friday?" he asked. "Oh yes," we lied. He must have thought he'd landed in a very strange land.

The next evening I went out with my husband to a wedding dance. It was great. The band was fantastic and everyone could ceilidh dance. There is nothing like a highland wedding with men in kilts, pipes and dancing. We saw old friends we hadn't seen in ages. 

I don't think I have the stamina for two nights out in a row. It is no use when the kids are bouncing on you at 7am and you only got in at 3am. Next weekend there are two halloween parties and a shed warming. Might manage 1 out of 3.

Saturday, 27 September 2008

A week in the life

The house is progressing nicely. All the blockwork is finished and the window cills are in place. We have thick concrete cills and mullions which make the house look really substantial and as though it has been there a while. Inside, the ames taper has finished and we have begun painting. If we had built the house before having kids we could have had it painted by now. I love the little darlings but I can't get doing anything with them around. 

Last weekend my husband was home for the first time in yonks so I had a night out with the girls. We decided to venture beyond our village so I volunteered to drive as I wanted to be fresh for painting the next morning. Also, I was tired and developing a painful sty in my eye. We drove on windy roads for about 40 minutes until we reached the disco. We arrived at the wee stone cottage recently built for traditional ceilidhs but tonight loud music belted out from it and disco lights flashed through the windows. It was the five of us and 20 unfriendly Austrian men. We waded through them (they did not clear a path) to get to the wee bar. C wanted a gin and slim. "We don't do slimline." M wanted a vodka, lime and lemonade. "We don't have lime." G wanted a long vodka. "Stick to two ingredients we told her. I had a diet coke and I felt much too sober to be there. Then we all waded back through the Austrians and sat in a row. The place is so small and narrow that there is not enough space for seats to face each other. The disco lights blinded us shining straight in out eyes and then the smoke machine came on. D nearly had an asthma attack. We opened the door. Someone shut it and more smoke came out the smoke machine. C refused to go to the bar again in case she got pregnant. We drank our drinks slowly and left. We looked out the car windows to see the wee stone building with smoke streaming out the crack round the door. It looked like it was on fire.

On Sunday my husband had a fun day with the kids while I painted and painted and painted our new house. It was wonderful to spend time in it and to be on my own for a few hours. As the roller moved paint up and down the bare walls and the rain streamed through the gutters (they are working, phew!) my mind slowly emptied of the noise and clutter and the endless to do list. It was just me on my own with no questions to answer, no phone to answer, no knocks at the door. I went home feeling happy and relaxed and ate a meal not prepared by me. 

Then Monday morning arrived and with it aching muscles from the painting. I went in to work feeling fairly relaxed as last week had gone well and I was well prepared and the day went well. It is demanding teaching non-stop except for a few short breaks. I wished I had an office job so I might make a coffee, check my email and chat to a colleague. And I realised that is the worst part of this job. I have no real colleagues. The other tutor on the course works different days and I spend the day with students. I have no-one to socialise with at work. I rushed home to prepare dinner.

We still weren't dressed at 10am on Tuesday.  We were having a lovely relaxing morning singing and dancing in our pyjamas when I got a phone call from MFI saying they were outside my house with my kitchen. The kitchen was supposed to be arriving next month and was supposed to be delivered to the new house. "Just give me a few moments to get the kids ready", I said. We rushed out with hair like scarecrows and in ill-matching tracksuits. The delivery van followed me to the new house and we waited a while until the walls of the house being built next to us were moved out of the way by the crane. So now I have half my kitchen in boxes. 

The electrician was there so we went through the list of items I needed to order for his next visit. Things like sockets and lights and all the necessary little things in a house. I went home and ordered the goods immediately then parcelled my girl off to nursery.

That night I had a community council meeting in the local hotel. Afterwards, I went to the bar with my friend and then more friends joined us and we sat sipping wine and chatting by the fire until 2am. The matter-of-fact, no subject taboo, German told us all about his night in a hotel with some girl. He told us he had shaved all over. He always tells me that. It was as if I was there with them such was the detail. A Scots man and an Irish man joined us who have lived in America for over 20 years and were taking Americans on a cultural tour. Some Americans briefly joined us and an old friend joined us. It was very nice but far too late.

On Wednesday all the finishings arrived - doors, skirtings etc. We need to stain them and my brother is starting work fitting them on Monday.

On Thursday I missed a very important meeting to campaign for a Gaelic school. No babysitter available. My husband arrived at it an hour late when it was all over. His shinty commitment was obviously more important than our children's education.

On Friday my husband  managed to do a little bit more painting and remove and clean the scaffolding and that is it. With his work and our kids there has been no time. He is away again this weekend. We could have painted! 

It rained all day today so we played inside and went to the Farm Shop to buy a chicken but came home with so much more. I am sitting in alone again. The kids are sleeping, husband is away and you know what? I quite enjoy my own company. Reading, writing and watching films with a wee glass of wine. 

My wee girl is at last starting to look forward to the new house. Probably because she has got it into her head it will be like a farm.

My girl said, "Guess what we are going to have in the new house?"
"I'll give you a clue. It barks, it eats dog biscuits and it has a lead."

"And guess what else we'll have?"
"I don't know"
"It neighs, it eats grass and it lives on grass."
"A cow"
"Yes we'll have a cow but it's not that."

She wants a farm. I just want to be in my new house.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

my first day at work

My first day at college started well as I was shadowing a class. I couldn't find my old work bag so carried everything around in a canvas shopper. That's just not very cool, is it? The girls in the class are aged between 15 and 19 with one older one at 23. There are a few confident chatterboxes and the rest are quiet, shy, lacking confidence. They go red when you ask them to talk and just haven't become comfortable in their own skin yet. I had forgotten what an agonisingly self-conscious time it is being a teenager. 
It got worse when without warning I was dumped with the class for the afternoon. I had just received the course materials and was left to get on with it. This was bad. It could set me off on the wrong foot with the class for the rest of the year. They were bound to see I didn't have a clue. All I could do was recap on the mornings work, get them to discuss things in groups and feedback and then I spent some time just getting to know them and hear about their reasons for doing the course and what they would like to do in the future. I confessed I hadn't prepared anything for them as I had not come in to teach them today. They were fine. The real test is Monday when I have to teach them two courses over the whole day. What have I got myself into? At least I am prepared this time.
At lunch I nipped out to see my kids who were coming out of gymnastics. It sounds daft but I was missing them as I love going to gymnastics with them.  They were so happy to see me I could have cried. Later, at home, my baby boy was not talking to me and wouldn't come into  my arms. He wasn't well and had been looked after all day by his Granny and now only wanted her. It was like a punishment for going back to work and dumping him. 
My new boss asked if I had enjoyed the day and getting out of the house. I was never stuck in the house in the first place. We were out doing things every day. There is such an assumption that mothers are desperate to throw off the shackles of domesticity. I used to be but lately I had really been enjoying being a stay-at-home mum. My main motive for going to work is to increase our income. Although, if it works out I will be happy to have a career for myself for the future.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Going back to work part-time

I've been head-hunted! I've been offered a job teaching at the local college 1 day a week. I am delighted and apprehensive and a little reluctant at leaving chaotic domesticity if only for a day. I am looking forward to earning my own money and to being in a college environment but it is a long time since I held an actual job so I am a little unsure. I have to get a CV in to the college tomorrow. I have just written it, right now, at the last minute. The last time I did one was 7 years ago! I was happy to discover I had a few things to add to it. I am meeting the course leader tomorrow to go over the teaching pack and to discuss the job. 

I told my wee girl who is almost 4 and asked her what she thought. "Fine. Does that mean I get to go to play at the thing?" she asked excitedly. She was talking about the day care centre in town. Here's me staying at home to bring up my children because I think it is best for them and me and my daughter wants to go to day care. In fact, she often asks me if she can go there to play and I  tell her "No, that's for boys and girls whose Mummy and Daddy's are out at work so they go there to be looked after." She obviously thinks it is a good thing. The minute she heard I had a job she asked about going there. I suspect it is because there is a bouncy castle and a sit-in train. All those days of baking, finger painting, glitter glue and wet-weather walks, I could never trade them in for day care and wearing smart clothes to work. Perhaps there is a balance to be had and work part-time and get the best (and worst) of both worlds.

I am also wondering how I am going to fit it in. My schedule has gone crazy again. I am at the house site managing things there, doing nursery runs, Mums and Babies in the village, Community Council, going to a new Gaelic Parent and Child Group, toddler gymnastics has started again and I am trying to resurrect my writing dreams and actually write. Also, my husband is never at home as he is either working at the day-job, working at the site or away playing with his band. Oh, and I have mountains of procrastinated domestic chores to get through. They are becoming more pressing as we have a house inspection next week. It is to check for any maintenance requirements but pride will forbid me from letting them see it as it is now. Also, the recycling pile is growing as we haven't taken it down to the recycling centre for weeks and if you were to look at the collection of bottles in our back garden you would think I had turned to drink. Actually, looking at this list I could probably do with a day of work to get away from it all. But what to wear? I will have to go shopping for something smart-ish that fits. 

And, by the way, the house is coming on great. All the plasterboarding is finished so that is the 2nd fix completed. We are trying to get an Ames Taper to fill the joins in the plasterboard but they all quote at least double what we budgeted. We might just have to bite the bullet and go with one. The blockwork is 90% done as well. We just have the massive problem of discharging our sewage to deal with. It is only a massive problem because the seller of our site who is also the neighbouring landowner is being an awkward shit and telling us lies. We are trying to reach an amicable agreement but it is looking increasingly likely that it will become a matter for lawyers which means expense. He has already told me he has instructed his lawyer to write to my lawyer. It is ridiculous as I see him every day and he only lives across the road from me. Bloody areshole.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Choo Choo

The steam train passes our house every day at 11.30am. It is a highlight in the morning and choo-choo is one of my baby's first words. As soon as we hear the chugga-chagga-chugga-chugga we rush to the window in time to watch the engine and carriages pass by. The kids stand at the window pointing and waving and shouting choo-choo.

The other day we went out for a walk to watch the train coming over the viaduct. We walked along the single-track road behind the tourists rushing ahead, cameras at the ready. Up ahead we saw photographers setting up a shot and decided that would be the best place to watch. We left the road and squelched up a boggy hillside and waited surrounded by the mountains. As we waited we watched a pair of dragonflies dancing in the air, bees buzzed around wildflowers and the sun shone warmly. My baby pointed out birds flitting around. My girl needed a pee, urgently. We hid behind a bush and she giggled as the grass tickled her bum. I realised that should the train come now all the passengers would see her bum. It didn't, they didn't.

Then we heard the chugga-chugga-chugga-chugga and we saw the clouds of smoke and the baby chanted choo-choo choo-choo and my girl shouted as loud as she could choo-choo choo-choo. And there it was racing over the viaduct. The shiny black engine and red carriage after red carriage. We waved and waved. The driver waved and pulled his whistle several times Woo-Woo. And we kept waving and all the passengers waved and waved. The kids were so happy and I was so happy tears came to my eyes. It was something about old-fashionedness of it and the sheer joy of waving at people on a train and their joy at being on the train with people waving at them. A shared happiness with strangers on a train. We walked home to the sound of the baby chanting choo-choo all the way. 

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

foraging for food

We are getting in to foraging. Walks have taken on great purpose when we are looking for things to eat. My wee girl loves this. Picking blueberries was especially tasty and we ate them straight from the bushes and walked home with stained hands and mouths. We also tried mushroom picking but gave up as we really needed someone experienced to come with us and show us what not to pick. I didn't want to take any chances and poison the family.

We are keeping an eye on the brambles (blackberries) watching them ripen slowly. When they are ready we will pick them and make crumbles and jam. There is an apple tree nearby we collect apples from to make chutney. Foraging is one of the great delights of autumn. It feels so wholesome to go out with the kids, pick food and then eat it.

Most summers we put our boat out on the loch and go trout fishing. We just didn't manage this year as we are so busy with the house build and my husband has been away loads. 

There are a few locals who occasionally go out at night to hunt deer. They just take 'one for the pot' and fill the freezer, pass some out to neighbours. They usually go when the estate manager is in the bar drinking. One renowned poacher is also a hill-runner. He was out on the hill one night when he heard footsteps coming nearer. He hid his shotgun up high in a tree and broke into a run towards the footsteps. As he ran past, the estate manager asked him, "In training for the hill race?" to which he replied, "Aye."

I will never forget the time when I first moved to this village. There had been a clay pigeon shoot on and then a big drink taken in the local hotel. Prizes of game were awarded to the best shots. I went home to bed early and was woken up at 1am with a big party going on in our cottage. My husband had brought back the entire pub it seemed. He ended up going to bed and I was left with the party.

Next morning I was woken with banging on the door and the window. An angry wife had tracked down her errant husband and brother-in-law to our house. They were asleep together on the sofa bed. I had insisted they stayed rather than drink-drive. I have never seen anyone jump out of bed as quick as that man did when he saw his wife's face looking through the window at him. "How did she find me?" She got the two of them going quick smart.

I went through to the kitchen to see a whole side of smoked salmon lying on the floor and then in the back porch I was met with the sight of a hare tied at the hind legs dangling from the window latch. A single bullet wound to the head and blood drips on my floor. I could only laugh. Country life! Well no-one claimed the smoked salmon so after about a week we ate it and the hare went to a neighbour for skinning and butchering and he returned it to us diced. Hare casserole it was then. 

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

I have settled on the kitchen

The housebuilding is going well. We are partially insulated and plasterboarded and some of the outside walls are bricked up. The plumbers and electricians have done as much as they can for now. We are at a point that is not very stressful. I am happy as there are men there every day working. One of them is my brother and it is special to have someone working who really cares about us and our house. It is also exciting for the kids to go down and join him for 10 o'clock tea. 

The main news is that I have finally settled on the kitchen. I have spent weeks agonising. Yes, really agonising about worktops, sinks and taps. It was my last thought at night and my first thought in the morning. Obviously, I have lost all sense of perspective. The trouble is I found a kitchen I love but couldn't afford so I bought it and compromised by selecting cheapo worktop, sink and tap. The kitchen doors are white-painted timber shaker-style with modern long handles. I wanted to put on a black quartz worktop but I couldn't afford it. At long last I have decided to go for an oak worktop, belfast sink and beautiful tap. This way I can marry the modern with the traditional, create a heart of the home kitchen and be comfortable that I am using natural materials. Wood is the most environmentally friendly choice as it is a renewable source. I feel happy. Just have to squeeze the budget a bit.

We are trying to be as green as we can with the build. It is timber frame, well-insulated, high-performance timber doors and windows. We will have a wood-burning stove and we have installed underfloor heating. The heating system is an air source heat pump. It is expensive but should pay for itself within a few years. Basically, the fuel source is the outside air. The air is compressed which makes it hotter and it then heats the water for our water tank and the water that flows in the pipes of our underfloor heating. As there is an infinite supply of air we will always have fuel and we won't have to worry about not being able to afford to fill an oil tank. 

Monday, 18 August 2008

Highland Games

We had our village Highland games on Saturday. Throughout the summer, Highland games are held in towns and villages all over. It is a day for meeting people and for people to participate in or watch 'the games'. There are heavy man events involving tossing the caber, throwing the hammer and athletics for all ages. There is usually a hill race and there are Highland dancing and piping competitions. It is a huge event in our tiny village with lots of people helping. Crowds come from all over and it is popular with locals and tourists. 

My wee girl has been excited about the games for the last week. She was eating all her dinner to be strong for winning races. She is of the mindset to win and is not fobbed off by the notion of it being fun to take part. She wants to win. At everything. Getting to the car is a race. Going down stairs is a race. Eating breakfast is a race. And now her brother is walking it won't be long before she has someone to win races against every day. She was confident she would win a race at the games in her new flashing trainers. And she did! She won the three-legged race with a little girl on holiday from England.

And she loved watching the Highland dancing. She wants to learn but I have resisted taking her to classes as they are on Saturday mornings. I run around all week in and out of town for nursery. I can't face being tied to Saturday mornings too. And if she likes it, and sticks with it, it means expensive costumes she will grow out of quickly and summers spent going to Highland games. I am not really keen on going to Highland games. I just like our own one as it is a village event and a sociable day. 

For the first time in years my husband was at home for the games and we went as a family. At the end of the day I joined him in the beer tent and had a couple of gins then spent the evening alone as the kids slept and my husband played in the ceilidh band for the dance. I knew the whole village was there and it would be a great night but I had no babysitter so I poured myself a vodka and tonic and then another and went to bed. My husband got in at 5am. It had been a great night. A wild ceilidh dance and house parties after. Next year I will plan ahead and book a babysitter. I love nights like that with music, dancing, drinking, laughing, partying and stumbling home at the end.

There is a man who a lot of people are not keen on. He is odd, grubby and there is something unsettling about him, particularly when he is drunk. He is nicknamed, but not to his face. I was just chatting with my good friend about how tolerant and polite Highland people are and how maybe we should be more upfront about how we really feel when I heard that this man had sat in company all evening drinking top shelf (malt whisky) and never once put his hand in his pocket to buy a round. Eventually, a local estate owner who is not a toff but a self-made man told him "you are obnoxious and you have a strange sense of humour" to which he just giggled. 

Friday, 15 August 2008

jags and peeing outside naked

I took my two little ones for jags today as they were both due immunisations. My poor wee girl had to have three injections  in her arms as I held her close, holding her elbows in so she couldn't lash out.  The worst part was her utter outrage at this being done to her against her will. She cried for hours about it asking why did she have to have it, why did the doctor do it and insisting that she is never, not ever going to the doctors again. I was still comforting her when it was the baby's turn. 

Fortunately, I had brought Mum with me to help as I knew I could not manage them both. Mum held the baby who was sitting on her knee watching his sister roaring crying. Then one quick jag and he screamed. His poor little face shocked at the sudden pain. I wanted to hold him but I was still holding his sister. Moments later he stopped crying and for the rest of the day it was as if nothing had happened. He is as hard as nails that wee boy. He is used to feeling pain as he hurts himself every day on his climbing, crawling and learning to walk adventures.

Mum had tears in her eyes at the trauma of her grandchildren. I didn't. It worried me that I was okay with all this trauma. The first time I took my girl for injections I cried for hours after. I will never forget her lying on a table smiling and cooing at the doctor, so trusting, and then in an instant screaming. I felt like I had betrayed her. I think I have just become tougher as I have been through this many times and I am confident I am making the right decision in having them immunised against nasty diseases whose effects are much worse than getting a jag. Older generations remember the seriousness of diseases such as measles. 

We went home and after lunch and some quiet time doing jigsaws with me (while baby slept) my girl decided she wanted to go out to play in the garden across the road with her best friend. The trouble is I could see the bf playing and eating lunch with her Dad and sister and playing on her swing completely naked. She was like that for hours. Her garden is very exposed and anyone entering or leaving the cul de sac goes right past it and several houses look on to it. Also there was a squad of men painting the neighbouring houses. She was dangling upside down on a swing with her legs open. Then, rather than walk a few steps into her house she held on to the wooden frame, next to the road, opened her legs and peed. Then, it gets worse, wiped herself with her hand. Later, her Dad, held her under the knees as she peed in the garden...where they play. I was aghast. Even my little girl could see it was not right. She said to me, "Why does bf pee in the garden? How can D let his child pee pee in the garden? I think bf has a silly daddy." 

The bf is an odd little thing but she has no hope of learning normal social behaviour as her parents don't teach her. Indeed, they have no idea of normal social behaviour. My concern is that they make her vulnerable and that my daughter copies.  My girl promised me she would pee in the toilet when she went to play there. Last year the bf was always peeing in the gardenin full view of neighbours and her parents and I saw my girl copying her. My girl knowing it was not all right in our garden thought it was all right in the bf's garden. Then one day I got a phone call to go over as my girl had done a poo on their front path. I was horrified. I couldn't believe she had done it but when I thought about it she was confused as in their house kids were doing the toilet in the garden. My other worry was had anyone seen her! Their kid habitually does pees outside but mine goes one better and does a poo on the doorstep. I could hardly say anything about their kid. Toddlers would turn into little savages left to their own devices but that is why we have an important job to do to teach them how to behave and live in the social and cultural world they are being brought up in. 

I started to question myself. Am I being OTT? She is just a wee girl after all. Kids pee outside all the time. But, it wasn't the beach and it wasn't a private, enclosed garden. And when kids pee outside, isn't it usually behind something like a bush, a rock or a wall. They know to hide. What strikes me is that the bf doesn't know any better. My girl knows to use a toilet if there is one nearby and she knows it is best to keep her pants on in public.

Saturday, 9 August 2008

melancholic day-dreaming

I've been feeling a little melancholic and day-dreamy lately. I've been dwelling on the fragility of life, the fleetingness of life and the impermanence of it all.  I find myself day-dreaming tragic scenarios. How wasteful of me, when life is happy and good, to spend time imagining how it would be and how I might feel in different circumstances. I can't help it. It is something I do from time to time. I have a cloying need to hold close those I love knowing that one day we will inevitably be parted.

I look around at the rugged mountainous landscape, the misty mountains and still lochs and ponder on the generations of people who have been and gone who looked at, and walked on, this same land which has remained unchanged. I wonder too how I am shaped by the landscape I have been brought up in and continue to live in. The land of my ancestors. There is a wildness within that is very real in the rugged rocks and ragged peaks and stormy atlantic seas. The beauty of it all is humbling and at times I can't see it as it is all too familiar yet at moments the sheer beauty around me takes my breath away. 

When I look at my children in the same way their beauty is spell-binding and I can scarcely believe we made them. I mean how clever is that! I sniff them in and they cuddle in for a moment before wriggling free to continue with their play. My boy practising walking and my girl being busy in a thousand different ways. Their smiles light up my heart and lift my mood.

In the summer time as I sit in the evening, once the children are sleeping, I keep the curtains open so I can see the dark silhouttes of the mountains against the skyline and the flight of bats out hunting in the night. And I am glad.

Sunday, 3 August 2008

housebuilding stresses and significant birthdays

I can't believe it has been over a month since I posted. What can I say? I have been too busy, tired and stressed. The house building gathered apace and completely took over and then it all stopped. And now it shuffles forward. 
It is the middle of the trade fortnight when traditionally all the tradesmen down tools and go on holiday for two weeks. Crazily, my husband insisted we go to stay with his parents for the two weeks before the trade fortnight. So the joiners didn't do the plasterboarding and the brickie phoned to say he had slipped on a wet slate on the site and pulled a ligament and would not be able to work for four weeks. I did hear reports he was seen walking around without a limp two days later. 
He, helpfully, fixed us up with another brickie. It didn't take long for us to learn that the new brickie was not up for the job. "Don't let him near your house," one joiner advised while another's first words were "Jesus Christ! He's horrendous!" So we had to cancel him. Unfortunately, he had already started so it was actually a sacking. Our first one. I insisted my husband did it. He felt terrible and paid him £300 for his work so far. We were seriously ripped off but my husband couldn't see clearly for feeling bad about sacking him. By a stroke of luck our new neighbour is a brickie and on his trade holiday so he is doing the work with my husband labouring for him. It is going to take a long time and we are now behind schedule. 
We now have the first fix plumbing and electrics in and when the joiners return they will get on with plasterboarding so we are getting there.
The other major stress has been the drainage. We have to put in a private sewage system so we paid our site agent to design one and submit it for building warrant. We got all the necessary permissions and were set to put in a septic tank and soakaway system. Thankfully, the digger driver, who is like family to me, was sceptical of this system working so we got in an independent consultant who said there was no way it would work and all our waste (i.e. shite) would end up in our garden and in the ground below us. To cut a long story short we have a new solution which involves going in to neighbouring land which the owners are not happy about because they want to sell it but thankfully we have the legal right to do so and can go ahead. Phew! We almost found ourselves in the position of building a house we could not live in or sell. I was very anxious about this. Understatement.
We have also had two family birthdays. My baby boy is now one and he has totally emerged as a boisterous, loving, funny little man. He has also taken his first steps and likes to practice at every opportunity. Especially whilst paddling in the sea. My husband has turned 40. I think I am more affected by it than him. I find myself wondering, "How can I have such an old husband?" and I find myself worrying about ageing and dying and the best years of my life being over with all the wasted opportunities and wrong decisions. What will I be like when I turn 40?
The holiday at the in-laws was not without its stresses. Mainly due to the fact that I was not talking to my husband when we arrived and remained mad with him for about a week. This was because he had dragged us away when we were very busy with the house and put me under enormous pressure to get things done and organised before we left and then on the ferry journey to Ireland he disappeared for over an hour and he had the bag with everything in it. He left me with the kids and no nappies, snacks, no nothing. My arm nearly fell off from holding the baby. It was okay until we got fed up in the playroom and then couldn't find him when we looked for him. "Where is Daddy?" asked my girl. "Is he swimming in the sea?" It got even worse when I realised the baby needed a new nappy and my girl and I needed to use the toilet. Even I, multitasker that I am, cannot manage to hold a baby and a girl on the toilet on a rocking ferry let alone use the toilet myself. Eventually, a mother took pity on me and held the baby while I went to the toilet with my girl. I had to leave my treasured angel of a boy with a stranger. I was fizzing mad. Eventually, as the ferry approached the harbour my husband sauntered over looking rather refreshed. He had been for a sleep. "I'm sorry, I was tired after the drive. Get over it." That was his apology. If it hadn't been for the fact we have two young children and a house to build I would have left him as soon as we docked. Of course, it wouldn't have been an issue if we didn't have two young children.
At least we were going to a city with all its delights. Only it transpires when you have two kids and ageing in-laws in poor health you can't just dump the kids and go off and do your own thing.  I have become very familiar with city playgrounds and child-friendly visitor centres. We did manage a couple of meals out and an afternoon at the gaelic football. I managed a couple of shopping forays and spent money on clothes I like but don't really need. I should have left the cowboy boots on the shelf and kept the money for a toilet. Still, there's only going to be one cowboy on our house site and that will be me!

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Living in the Highlands means..

Living in the Highlands means that when the slaters turn up to put the slates on the roof they go home after 20 minutes because they have been attacked by thick black clouds of biting midges whose attack is so fierce that the protectibe arm-flapping and compulsive scratching threatens to topple the men off the roof. I am not exaggerating!

Living in the Highlands means that the moment you step out the door for a walk the rain starts. 

Living in the Highlands means that you have to drive for two hours to get a decent haircut.

Living in the Highlands means that you can't order your groceries online because you live too far from the shop.

Living in the Highlands means that you rarely wear heels because there are very few pavements and heels get stuck in the grass/heather/mud. Plus, you'd break your ankle!

Living in the Highlands means that your broadband speed gets so slow sometimes you can't connect to thew internet. This is because you live too far from the nearest exchange which resembles a garden shed and was last upgraded before anyone had heard of the internet.

Living in the Highlands also means that when someone in your village turns 90 the whole community gathers and throws her a big party to celebrate. Everyone brought food for the buffet, musicians brought instruments and played for a ceilidh dance and the local paper turned up for pictures. A piper piped her in and she was sat on a 'throne'. "I feel like a queen," she said. She is an amazing , young-hearted, active, warm woman and she doesn't look a day over 70. The best thing about living in a Highland village is the very real community spirit and the parties!

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

there are voices everywhere

It is true. I'm not hearing voices in my head but voices on the floor, under the couch, under my foot, under the table, under everything it seems. As I opened the oven door a voice said, "Your hair is so soft, I wish I had hair like yours". Honest to God. It was a talking hairbrush that I had caught with my foot. Then as I sat on the couch for a moments relax in a rare quiet moment a wee voice sang loud, "woof woof woof Hello baby". These voices are actually quite friendly. But then, later, as I crept in to bed in the dark a loud cackle pierced the silence. "Ah ha ha", like a wicked witch. 

I'm no housewife but I am a homemaker

I don't know if I can call myself a housewife anymore as my house is suffering from neglect. I am keeping on top of laundry, shopping, cooking and dishes but that is about it. The reasons for said neglect are that the baby is everywhere all the time. He is into everything. And we have to spend every afternoon in town while my wee girl is in nursery. And I spend every morning project managing the house build. So I am at the site with the kids or on the phone dealing with things like when people are turning up, why people are not turning up, ordering materials, paying bills, finding out where missing windows are and when x is being delivered and why y didn't arrive and when do we need z for and why did you invoice me for that, when I have already paid you for it. Actually the last thing is just a problem we have had with one person - our site agent. He is the person we pay to help us and advise us. He basically architecturally supervises the build. Only he is no help, uncommunicative and overcharged us by invoicing us for work we had already paid him for. Good job I am on top of paperwork. I knew that filing cabinet was a wise purchase. It is hectic but exciting as every day the build progresses and we are closer to living in our home. I guess I am a homemaker in a very literal sense.

no sex please we're married

Everywhere I go these days I seem to meet sex-starved women. They are all disappointed by their men's lack of interest in getting their leg over. We were brought up to believe that all men were sex-mad and we had to feign them off as best we could. It turns out it is the other way round in many relationships. Yet, if you are to believe the advice pages in any magazine or on the internet the experts still seem to believe it is women who go off sex and are 'too tired'. Perhaps they are but often as not it is the other way round. I was at a wedding recently where one young wife declared that she was not leaving the hotel without sex even if it meant paying to stay on a few hours. Her gripe was that they had come away without the kids and he was 'too tired' and then after his meal 'too full' to make love. He saw their couple of nights away from the kids as a chance to catch up on sleep. Another woman was experiencing a similar problem and confessed to buying a 'rabbit' for some satisfaction. After all, it is a basic human need. 

And everywhere I go these days I am hearing similar stories. Is there an epidemic of 'tiredness' affecting men the country over? I was experiencing the same thing in my own relationship recently but thank god that's passed. Although, at the weekend we went to a wedding sans kids and stayed in a posh country hotel. The room was fabulous and the bed enormous. So, after the church and before the meal I suggest a quickie in the room to be told there wasn't enough time. Isn't that the point? Then, after the meal, I look into his eyes and say, "I'm going to the room now, would you like to come with me?" And do you know what he says, "I'll just wait here [in the bar], see you in a while." I must have read too many magazines and romantic stories in my younger days but I really believed that men were up for it, all the time. How wrong I was! How disappointing!

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

we have a roof

Yippee. We have a roof! The slates are still to go on but....we have a roof. The house now looks huge. 
I am really struggling to fit everything in right now. Building the house is taking up more and more time and it is impossible to make phone calls with the kids around. When I do try to make a business call my daughter inevitably demands my attention, usually with the words, "I need a poo" in a loud voice.  My solution is to allocate some tasks to H. Typically, they are not done and it falls back to me. It would have been easier to do it myself in the first place. He was supposed to phone slaters over a week ago! We still don't have a slater and we will be ready for one soon. Yes, I am feeling a little stressed and a little sorry for myself. Usually, I rant to myself something along the lines of, "Why do I have to do bloody everything, am I just the maid around here, Help I need a housekeeper / nanny / personal assistant, Why is he so fucking unreliable? Aaargh." and then I throw in a few more growls and sighs for good measure. 
I have decided just to get on with it. If you want a job done, do it yourself and all that.

Financing this major house building project is starting to get a bit stressful too. We have a tight budget and no room for overspend. Coupled with that our income is too low. Just to add to the squeeze on our resources the garage has informed me that the car needs £800 worth of repairs, not including the cost of replacing two tyres. It couldn't have come at a worse time. Where oh where am I going to find £800? 

Monday, 2 June 2008

sex and the city

Just about recovered from the best day out with my fellow married yummy mummy pals. We had been looking forward to it for so long and it didn't disappoint. Sex and the City! It was great. We laughed, we cried and it was just so good to see my old Friday night friends, aka the SATC girls, as I came to think of them. We arranged for a man we all know to drive us to Inverness as he goes every Sunday and that way no-one had to miss out on the cocktails. We all got dressed up and it was great to be smart, not wearing badges of snot and soggy biscuit on my shoulder. We all wore heels and we all looked fab. We started off with coffee and muffins, followed by a spot of shopping. We arrvied at the cinema early to avoid the rush. And we waited. And we waited. Then at long last the familiar doo doo doo doo-doo doo-doo theme tune came on and it was on. 

I have been so sleep-deprived lately that I was worried that a comfy seat in a darkened room would seduce me in to sleep but no chance. I didn't even yawn. So the reviewers slated it but I loved it. Yes, there are flaws but it was great to meet the characters again. We laughed, we cried and when it was all over we went for cocktails. Then dinner and more cocktails. The more we drank, the louder we laughed and the more our conversation revolved around sex. I just hope we weren't talking too loudly. I am cringing just thinking about it. I mean, it is fine if you live in New York City but in the Highlands you can be sure that there is someone listening who knows of you. On the other hand, it is just a normal part of life and totally fascinating. Now we are planning an Ann Summers party! I don't think we are so much SATC girls; more like desperate housewives. I just hope we are not turning into cliches of thirty-something married women mourning the loss of their youth acting all outrageous the minute they get a drink in them. 

We all had a great time but now we are past 30 the hangovers last longer and it will be a while before I drink that much again. Honestly! Okay, so I have two weddings to go to this month but I will be good. I will.

Friday, 30 May 2008

I am descending in to chaos

This housewife is dosed with the cold and  my house has descended into chaos. I down tools for one day and mayhem erupts. There is stuff everywhere, dishes piling up in the sink, laundry gathering into a mountain and the place is starting to look grotty. I am a  housewife who is none too keen on housework but I can't stand to live in dirt and mess so I do it. Unfortunately, I am the only one who does it. I'm thinking I should either exert the will of mind over matter and spring into cleaning action or I should just bail out for the day. Go somewhere peaceful with the children. It is warm and sunny. As I write I have decided to do housework this morning and go out this afternoon. I will take the children for ice-cream and visit the beach. 

My daughter is supposed to be going to nursery but I am not taking her because I cannot face the traffic. Can you believe that a half hour journey to nursery yesterday actually took one hour 15 minutes? We are not urban commuters but the traffic jam would rival city rush hour traffic. We snaked along and eventually made it to the town centre by which point I had lost the will to live and the girls were desperate for a pee. At least that's what they said to add to the stress of the journey but the minute we got there they didn't need. Then, nobody would let me turn right into the car park. The traffic blocked the access and they just kept coming. I told the nursery that we wouldn't be in today. 

I also have a bit of work to do on myself. I have honestly been too busy to bleach the hair on my upper lip. Looking at it in my magnifying mirror it is like a full-on moustache. I find myself talking to people with my hand over my mouth. The trouble is finding the right time to do it. I can't do it when baby is awake because he would stick his fingers in it. I can't do it during the day because someone would come to the door the moment I applied it and at night-time I am too knackered. I find myself glued to my nursing chair, feet up, glass of red wine in one hand, macbook on my lap and something, anything on the telly. Of course, it is not really that bad (at least that's what my husband tells me) but I did promise myself that I wouldn't let myself go after having children. Only, it's not that easy. I don't have the time or funds to groom myself like I used to. My hair hasn't been cut for ages, my legs are well overdue a wax, my feet are not yet summer sandal ready and it is at least a year since I applied a face mask. 

I think I will go and write a to do list.

Monday, 26 May 2008

Desperate housewives lunch

I spent the morning making phone calls about the house build and simultaneously pretending to be a girl while my daughter pretended to be my Mammy taking me on a day trip to see a Katie Morag show. I had a day off from the nursery run today so after dear daughter was despatched I took the baby for a walk to the site to talk to the joiners and check on progress. They weren't there today but it didn't matter as they will be there for the rest of the week and so I arranged for the forklift and driver to be on site to lift wall panels and roof trusses. With a rare couple of hours to kill and the sun blazing in the sky I called in on my good friend and future neighbour I for a yarn and to feed my baby and change his nappy. Our friend C called in and the three of us with our three buggies went to the hotel for lunch.  The last time I had been there we had all left well past closing time and rather the worse for wear. Today, we were on the diet cokes and making plans for our Sunday outing to see Sex and the City in Inverness followed by a meal. Chief among our concerns is of course what to wear. "Is a strapless dress too much? Just right", they assured me. Lunch arrived on a tray with a note from the chef saying, "I wish I was a desperate housewife!" On days like this the life of a housewife is not bad at all.

Sunday, 25 May 2008

Happy Birthday to me

I am 32 today. I can hardly believe it and I think it is time to stop counting. My children gave me flowers and my husband gave me chocolates. I did tell him not to buy me anything as money is tight with the housebuilding and I had a bit of a spree in Inverness last week buying outfits to wear to weddings. It is obvious that yesterday with our daughter away for the day to a Katie Morag show with her Granny  that he drove 15 miles to the nearest shop to buy cards and gifts. As it is a small supermarket the choice is limited. So the flowers are a few carnations and a couple of gerberas. There are some small purple ones as well but I can't tell what they are because they are dead after spending all night and all sunny morning in the car without water. They all fitted comfortably into the small vase. As I write he is tucking in to the chocolates! 

We didn't get much sleep last night with the baby teething and the fact I stayed up late as my sister came to stay. So, it was a slow start to the day and then a mad rush to meet up with my family for a birthday lunch in a hotel. Afterwards we went to my Mum's for birthday cake. My daughter chose it for me when she was shopping with her Granny yesterday.  She helped me blow out the candles, that is, she blew out the candles. She was just in the nick of time as the baby's fingers hovered closer and closer to the flames. 

Turning 32 feels like an insignificant event. It is not a major milestone or anything. The best bit about my birthday is the joy my daughter gets from celebrating it with me. She said it was a great party and she was so delighted to bring me cards, presents and birthday cake. She also chose to wear her new party dress. My sister gave me a lovely top and other gifts of money were most welcome. Might help cover the cost of my shopping spree. So, it was a good birthday and a happy family day.

Friday, 23 May 2008

we have walls

Yesterday morning the second load of our timber-frame kit arrived. My husband stayed in bed with man-flu so I dropped the kids off at my friend's (she is also my soon-to-be next door neighbour).  When it was all off-loaded there looked to be enough for two houses. I left the joiners having a well-deserved cup of tea at 11am. After the nursery run I went up to the site to see if there were a few walls up. I couldn't believe it when I saw a house. All the main downstairs walls were up. I could walk through doorways, stand in rooms, look out windows. It was so exciting. I have dreamt of living in this house for years and now I can really walk inside it. It feels light and spacious and it is just as I imagined.
After our weekly art class I went out with two friends for a drink to celebrate the walls. There was only the three of us in the bar but we had a great laugh. 7 G&Ts later I arrived home at 2am. My head was bad in the morning but not bad enough to regret it.
All the joiners were on site today and put up partition walls and first floor joists. I was doing the nursery run again today and the weekly shop so my husband, let's call him H, said he would go to the site to talk to the joiners about schedules and bring them some plans. Only, he didn't. Aaargh! I hit the roof. Why does he have to be so unreliable? 
With all my focus on the new house the house we live in is descending into chaos. Never mind, there's always tomorrow. 

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Our house arrived - eventually!

Today was the day. At 9am I arrived on site with 2 kids in tow, the camcorder and camera to record the momentous occasion when the kit arrived. Already on site was a lorry with the roof trusses and  A was busy on the forklift removing our trusses from the lorry. My wee girl hopped on and helped him safely take the trusses up on site. The joiners appeared - 4 of them- all set for a day's work. But still no house. At half nine I phoned Skye Homes and they said the lorry should be on its way and that they would check and phone back. For an hour and a half me and the two kids wandered around and got eaten alive with midges. I was in a constant state of excited anticipation with the camcorder round my neck waiting to capture the moment our house arrived. It turned out that the haulage company had forgot. Forgotten our house! I mean for fuck's sake how can you forget a house! The owner of the company had even driven past it loaded on the trailer at the weekend and thought to himself that it was loaded too high to go under the railway bridge! Anyway, a driver was dispatched and we were told the house would be on site at 3pm. More like 4pm we thought. So the joiners started the genny and boiled the kettle for a cup of tea. Thankfully, they had other jobs to go to and went away for the afternoon. I despatched one child to nursery and at 3.05pm as the baby was draining a bottle of milk my brother (who is one of the joiners) rang to say the house was there. I had missed filming the arrival! The lorry had not been packed that well and as large pieces were removed small pieces below crumbled of the side on to the ground. Even I could see they weren't packed properly. It also turned out that they had simply removed panels from the top  that are the first to be assembled so now there is no work for the joiners to do on site tomorrow. What a balls up! Everything was going so smoothly until now. It is so annoying but there is nothing to do but wait and moan and complain. I feel bad for the joiners who had cleared their schedules for us and now there is little for them to do. What a waste of time. I am totally exhausted now and this momentous day has been something of an anticlimax.

Friday, 16 May 2008

buiding gathers apace and some unusual shopping

You need to get a conical adapter. That is very important. The best place to get one is Bonk & Co. So said the brickie. Instantly suspicious I asked if he was joking. What kind of a place is Bonk & Co and just what is a conical adapter? It turned out to be perfectly innocent. Bonk & Co is a woodburning stove company and the conical adapter is just a part we need. We are so lucky with our brickie. He is polite, friendly and always returns our calls. He is also very accommodating and is going to build our chimney before the kit comes. So Sunday, Monday he will build the chimney  to 1st floor level with my husband labouring for him. Then on Tuesday the kit arrives. As soon as he phoned to say he could do it we had a rush on. First of all we had to get new chimney plans as my husband had finally agreed to go for a wood burning stove and not a dirty, inefficient open-fire. We got the new plans emailed to us very quickly by Skye Homes (excellent house company!) and talked to the brickie about materials. We were too late to get our materials delivered on time by the builders merchants so I had to organise getting our pick-up MOT'd for husband to collect the materials. At the builders merchants I felt a little out of my depth when they started asking questions about the materials. Thankfully I had brought the plans. I explained that I don't know what any of these things look like and that I am more used to shopping at Debenhams. They couldn't have been nicer, or more helpful. Don't worry, they said. Shopping in Debenhams is no fun for us. I said it is difficult at times because we are self-builders and we don't really know what we are doing. We rely on other people to keep us right. Don't worry, he said, half the builders in town don't know what they are doing either!
I phoned Bonk & Co and they arranged to send down the part the next day. Next I organised to borrow my brothers scaffolding tower. That night we phoned the joiners who are erecting the timber-frame kit and they are all set to go on Tuesday. And I contacted a delivery company to arrange collecting extension forks that have been made especially for the fork-lift.

Everything has been going so smoothly so it is no surprise that we have one problem. Our site agent. A person we pay to help us. But, he doesn't! We don't have a building warrant for the superstructure (house!) yet. The reason being that 6 1/2 weeks ago when building control contacted him with some queries regarding our application he left their letter lying on his desk and did nothing about it. I only discovered this by chance when I happened to be on the phone to Skye Homes at the same time as they received a fax from him containing the letter from building control. Funny that, As I had emailed him only an hour earlier asking if there was any news on our warrant.  I was so pissed off but I waited until the evening before composing an email. I got a very apologetic reply but I am still pissed off. We are going to carry-on regardless!
I am so excited. It is now only 4 days until the kit arrives! 

underfloor heating and floor screeding

We have the underfloor heating installed! It happened so fast. We realised we had a bit of time left before the kit arrives so we contacted our neighbour who we had lined up to do our underfloor heating and a few days later it was down. My brother ordered underfloor insulation and perimeter insulation for us and my husband laid it in an evening. Next day he worked with our neighbour to put down the underfloor heating. It was so quick. That night my brother worked hard putting in floor battens then the next morning all the men gathered on site again to screed the floor. Earlier in the week we had joiners in to put on the wall plate and locating plate so the men screeded off that and across the floor battens. It looks really great. So we now have foundations complete, underfloor heating in, floor battens laid ready for the floorboards to be nailed in to and our floor finished. So the house is at ground floor level now. Just need to get the chimney up!
The night before we did the floor screed we had a bit of a panic that we wouldn't have enough men on site. People that should help (my uncle and cousins!) wouldn't and one friend who wanted to help might not be able to because his wife was going to visit her ill father in hospital. So, a deal was struck that I would mind his 2 kids so he could help. I also had to feed the troops and look after my own two. Thank God, my Mum came out to help. I think we possibly worked harder than the men on site. I was disappointed not to be able to visit the site while work was going on. Mum and my two went down with bacon rolls and I made a meal for the end of the working day. It turned out that the wife (my friend) didn't visit  her dad; she went away on a haircut and shopping trip! It is mad because they are planning to build a house and will need help like we have had from people.  Anyway, it all worked out fine for us and the job was done and done well. A local man with a lifetime of experience came along and made a big difference. There was a fair bit of craic on site and I heard about it afterwards over dinner. 
It feels like a home already because good will and the work of good people is embedded into the very foundations.  It is supposed to be a very stressful time but so far it hasn't been. It is so exciting.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

we dug down and now we're going up

I have stood in the foundation trenches and watched them being filled with concrete. Within a couple of days the foundation  block work was complete and we could see the size and shape of the house. A giant footprint on our patch of this earth.  It looked big but when I stepped in to the lounge it seemed so small. "I'll never fit a three-piece suite in here!" I said. I knew the room measured up to a big space but in the wide open without walls to limit the eye it was impossible to guage. I'm a typical woman when it comes to visual-spatial exercises. 

The next stage was to fill it with hardcore which the digger man dug out from our site and created a great back yard space in the process! We had to compact the base with  a vibrating whacker plate. When that was done we dug up some of it to drill holes through the foundation walls for drainage pipes. The brickies should have left the holes in the first place and we should never have filled it in without making sure there were holes there! It was all our fault really as we are the project managers. Anyway, it is all sorted out. I hadn't planned on getting my hands dirty at the foundation stage but the night before we did the concrete floor I was out working at the site filling in holes with a spade and helping to place drainage pipes. My hands were wrecked. Cracked skin, raggy, broken nails and dirt so ingrained it wouldn't wash out. It wouldn't have been so bad but the week before I had spent £20 on a manicure!

Concrete floor day was exciting. There I was in my yellow steel-toe cap Lidl wellies my father-in-law had bought me years ago laying DPM (damp proof membrane) and expansion boards and pressure-testing the drainage pipes. I really enjoyed getting involved and it fuelled my enthusiasm for the whole project. The best thing about the day was the atmosphere of all these people helping us. Friends and neighbours working out of the goodness of their hearts. It is heartening that there still exists a code of helpfulness in our highland village. Neighbours help one another and know they can call on each other for help. Of course, not everyone is willing to lend a hand. We had people on our site pushing 60 and working hard. Yet, our old friend a fit single man kept his distance and took his dog for a walk instead. He doesn't like to help anyone. Resents giving his time away. Although he is like that the people here are so good that when he needs it they will help him too.

Saturday, 26 April 2008

too expensive to drive

There was no diesel left in the petrol tanks and we live 15 miles from the nearest filling station, shop, school everything. The fuel crisis in Scotland has to be having the biggest effect on ordinary people who live rurally. We have to be able to drive our cars. What is worse is that the filling stations are bleeding us dry hiking up their prices. It is now over 120p per litre. Every journey has to count now and we can't just nip in to town because we fancy it. It cost me £62 to fill the tank the other day.

the secret to a long life

We had a visitor at the weekly oil painting class. A male journalist came to photograph our teacher for a feature he is writing on her for a local paper. I told him he should come back in June when Kitty turns 90 and that she is our oldest resident. Never! he said, shocked. What's your secret?
Usually old people when asked that question say things like always have a purpose in life, my family keep me young, I never drank or smoked. But what, Kitty said had us all laughing. Her secret is Catch them young, treat them rough and tell them nothing!
It wasn't until after he'd gone that Kitty realised he was from the paper. What a laugh we had imagining her picture with that caption. It was funnier still when he popped back to check some details with the teacher.
I didn't know you were from the paper, said Kitty.
It's too late to rewind the tape now, quipped the journalist.

It was funny observing the effect of a man coming into our class. We did have a male member (no pun intended!) but although middle-aged he didn't exude much masculinity and was more like an over-grown child. The journo had them giggling, saying silly jokes about male models and had us all posing for a picture for the paper.

So now you know how to live to a ripe old age.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Do you promise to stay faithful?

Yeees, I reply expecting yet another mundane question about the lunch I am preparing.
Do you promise to stay faithful to Daddy forever?
The question comes bolt out of the blue and I stop what I'm doing. There's only one thing I can say, "I do".
Do you respect him?
How do you get married?

My three-year old loves to watch our wedding video but I didn't realise she was absorbing so much of the ceremony. Now she is reminding me of my wedding vows and holding me to them. Next time I show little sympathy when he has man-flu or complain we have no money she will be quoting the whole "for richer and for poorer, in sickness and in health" bit to me. We were married 6 years ago, long before she was born. She listens to the whole ceremony and takes delight in spotting people she knows and copying the dancing. Now she is planning her own wedding to her Daddy in our village church where her brother was christened. She doesn't care he is married to me. "We can share him!" she says. And, "It's okay Daddy, you can get married again." I must have missed that bit - hand me the remote I need to rewind.

Now she's having a tantrum because I won't give her my wedding ring!

Saturday, 19 April 2008

Why did you marry Daddy and how did you make me?

My wee girl who is 3 years old is always thinking and her questions are becoming more and more challenging. She asked her daddy, "How did you make me?" He said, "Ask your mammy!" So she waited for me to come home from a meeting and greeted me with the question. I was surprised as I thought it would be another few years before we would be having this talk. Anyway, I spared her the mechanics and just told her that "daddy put a little seed in mummy's tummy and it grew into you. Aren't we clever to make you?" The moment I said it I thought Oh hell she's going to ask how he put the seed in, but, thankfully she didn't and was satisfied with the answer - for now.

She also wants to know what everything is for, why we have to eat, why everything grows, why are there trees and why is everything the way it is.

My girl found our wedding video and loves to watch it. "What's married for?" she asked. I told her we got married because we loved each other and so we could have her. Now she is planning her wedding in our village church where her brother was christened. She is going to marry her Daddy. "But he's my husband", I said. "But I want to marry him too", she said. Then she wanted to know why I married Daddy. "Because I love him and so I can spend my life with him", I explained. "Me too!" she said. She told him he can get married again - to her!

She is so full of plans and in such a hurry to grow up. She wants to get married and have babies. She has also been thinking about her career. For a while she wanted to be a teacher, then a doctor and now she wants to be a clown - a falling down clown! She is looking for someone to teach her to juggle! She wants to be bigger and go to the big school and to drive. Actually she thinks she should be allowed to drive now. "I don't want to be 17 and drive I want to be 3 and drive!" What a character we have on our hands.

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

no delivery today

Where is the picture? In February I ordered a framed print of a painting by Pam Carter for my mothers birthday. It has still not arrived. The delivery company lost the first one and now the replacement has not arrived.

Every day I am looking out the window every time a car passes and nothing! Aargh!

Okay, so it is a big region with a scattered population but I have never, not ever had this problem before. Nearly all my shopping is done online (except food) and everything arrives quickly. I don't think I would be so happy to live here if it wasn't for the internet and online shopping. When you live rurally with little in the way of services or shops the world wide web really does put the world at your fingertips.

Monday, 14 April 2008

94 years in a flash

On Saturday I went with my mother and the two kids to visit my grandfather. It should have been a two and a half hour drive but it took us longer because we stopped for toilets and again for lunch. It was such a long journey but we were still in the Highlands. I forget how vast the region is and how diverse the landscape. We left the mountainous rugged wildness of the west for the flatter, more manicured landscape of the east.

Papa is 94 soon but would pass for 80. His skin is unwrinkled despite his years and more than his fair share of hardship and sadness in his life. He should be a medical mystery as his health is relatively good and he is very old. He was born in a highland croft and reared in a house that was very poor; a stone cottage with a thatch, no water or electricity. Basic survival entailed hard hard work. His diet consists mainly of sugar, refined carbohydrates and saturated fat and a good sprinkling of salt; lots of meat, milk, butter, white bread, jam, cake, potatoes, a few veg and little fruit. His drinks are sugary, stewed tea and full-fat milk. Since turning 80 he has become partial to the odd can of cola. Of course with a diet like that he has false teeth; but he is slim and healthy. The positive aspect of his diet is that it is simple, unprocessed and homemade. Porridge for breakfast and homemade soup. No fancy sauces and no ready meals. Although lately he has become partial to a microwave lasagne!

Papa said he can scarcely believe how old he is and that all those years have just passed in a flash. Imagine that, 94 years in a flash. Perhaps that reveals a life well-lived with people well-loved.

sunny days and self-building

The weather is uncharacteristically glorious so the children are outside as much as possible. When you live in the Highlands you feel you have to be outside on a good day just in case it is the last good day of the year and then you would be kicking yourself for not having made the most of it. The only downside to the recent good weather is the bright mornings. My kids are getting up earlier and earlier. Either I will have to fit a blackout blind or just resign myself to becoming a morning person and getting up at 6am. I could only do it with the help of coffee. It wouldn't be so bad if the baby wasn't waking me during the night as well. I don't think he is hungry I think he just feels like a bit of company. The benefit of breastfeeding is that I can just bring him in with me and feed him as I lie with my eyes shut. Most times we both fall asleep and the night limps on until the early morning games begin. It must be amazing to wake rested with a big smile and ready for action.

We are making good progress with our self-build house. We have finished foundations and have filled them with hardcore. This week we (when I say we, I really mean my husband) is going to whack it with a whacker plate. I had never heard of such a thing but it is a way of compacting the base. Then perhaps the following weekend we will pour the concrete floor. Also we have to drill holes in the foundation walls for drainage pipes as the brickies never left any spaces and we have to get the brickies back to start the chimney. We need to get all this done before 20th May when our timber-frame kit arrives. As I write it I am thinking it is quite a bit still to do before the kit arrives as we only have evenings and weekends.

Thursday, 10 April 2008

mums group baking frenzy

5 of us have had babies in the last year which is something of a population explosion so we decided to set-aside a couple of hours every Thursaday to get together with the children. There is no village hall or anywhere to meet other than each others houses so we take it in turns to host. When we first started meeting a packet of biscuits would be brought out with the coffee. Then someone decided to be a domestic goddess and we were greeted by the smell of muffins fresh out the oven. This raised the bar somewhat and now they are all baking. Today it was raspberry and chocolate brownies that were so sumptiously delicious that I do not know how I had the restraint to refuse a second. She did cheat though as it was her brilliant chef husband who baked them. Next week it is my turn and not to be outdone on the domestic goddess front I am already thinking what to bake. As my toddler is already planning to help bake for the ladies I can already envisage cupcakes garishly decorated with multicoloured animals and millions of hundreds and thousands.

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

a little introduction

My first post was a little premature as I haven't properly introduced myself so I will give you a little summary of my life as a happy highland housewife. I live in a small village of around 100 inhabitants. I have a husband and two children. A 3 year old who is a lively, intelligent wee character and thinks she's in charge and a 9 month old son who likes company, exploring and playing with his big sister. We are in the process of building a house - quite literally. It will be a beautiful big house and we have planned it for years. At the moment we are crammed into a two-up two-down. The reason we are crammed is because we have got too much stuff. We try to be kind to the environment and bring our children up happily and healthily. We are too busy most of the time and never get stuff done and that is frustrating. Unusually for a remote place there are lots of families with young children living here which is great. What isn't so great is that there is no shop for 15 miles, and the town, nursery, supermarket, doctor and all useful and / or necessary services are 18 miles away and a 30 minute drive. We spend a lot of time and money driving cars.
I am a housewife but I find domestic chores boring and I only do them because I hate to live in filth. I hate the house to be too messy but I naturally clutter the place. I do like cooking. In fact, I enjoy food a lot. I look after the children and try to find a bit of time to do things I enjoy just for myself. I enjoy walking, writing, reading, photography, painting, watching television and talking to friends. I really enjoy the occasional night out even if it is just to the pub for a drink and a craic. Craic isn't a misspelling of the popular drug. Craic means having fun chatting, sharing jokes and stories and a laugh.
I'll tell you more in future posts...

Baby sprays friend with pasta sauce

Meeting an old friend in town for lunch today so decided to make a bit of an effort and blow-dry my hair properly, put on make-up and smartish clothes. Like me she has left her city life but she has gone to live on an island. Her move was more recent and she has no children so she still retains some city glamour and I didn't want her to think I'd let myself go. I just had the baby with me and my friend was dying to see him. Her boyfriend was meeting her later in the town and probably a little nervous that she would be broody after our lunch. The baby was so slouched in the high-chair because he kept pushing himself down and he was being awkward. My friend in her nice clothes, perfectly straightened hair and delicate jewellery (I clocked it straight away as a potential target for little fingers to pull and snap, hence, I was relatively unadorned!) offered to hold him while I spoon-fed him spaghetti in a tomato sauce. Well, if she had any notion that babies were so sweet and adorable it went out the window when out of the blue he twisted his head round and with a mouth full of orange-coloured sauce blew her a raspberry and for good measure a second one. Fair play to her, she kept smiling even when I picked a piece of pasta off the side of her face. Now that's what I call a real friend.