Rights, Wrongs and Refugees

I think everyone’s seen and cried over photos of dead children and adult refugees, washed up on Mediterranean beaches. My friends seem to splitting into 3 mind-groups:

1.  ones who sympathise, but don’t see it as being something the UK should be involved in:

“Too many chancers amongst the refugees, wanting to come here for benefits and a free house”

“They should get help from the first safe country they get to – not us”

2.  ones who are heartbroken, but don’t see how they can help:

“What good is signing a petition? What can I actually do?”

3.  ones determined to do something concrete to help, collecting supplies, aid and money to be sent directly to refugees in Calais and the rest of Europe:

“Never mind an EU butter mountain – I’m adding to the Calais toothpaste mountain!”

“God, can you imagine having your period when you’re stuck living in an underpass with hundreds of other people, and you’re totally destitute?”

“If the Government won’t do anything, I will; I can’t sit and do nothing”

I’ve been starting to talk to the minxes about it. It’s difficult trying to hit the right level – baldly saying that kids like them are dying either because they stayed in their country or because they’ve not been able to get to safety when fleeing, is a bit much for a 5 year old to hear!

Why am I talking to my kids at all? Well, it came up in a long car journey conversation…

Midi’s feeling a little bit victimised by kids at school teasing her because her best friend happens to be a boy (“Oooo, you fancy him! He’s your boyfriend!”) Till now she’s chosen to ignore the silly tattle and rise above it, but is now finding it hard because in her eyes it’s relentless. So we talked about how sometimes it’s best to ignore stuff you don’t like, but sometimes you do need to stand up for yourself. We discussed things she could say back. I suggested statements she could challenge her tormentors with (and she said they were far too offensive and that I should keep my ideas to myself. I agreed that was a fair call!)

At the same time, Maxi was moaning about being stuck in the Rights Respecting Group at school, instead of the fun Gardening, Eco or Enterprise Groups that she’d hoped for. “We just get to make posters about UNICEF”, she grumbled. I reminded her about when she’d been in the Pupil Council as a P1 and had won the Headteacher’s Award for Citizenship – that she’d spoken her mind and suggested ideas to help others, and how proud I’d been (and am) of her empathy. I pointed out that she’d been able to shape the group somewhat, to make it more useful and fun just by voicing her opinions. (I also reminded her that she couldn’t judge the group on one short session, but that’s another story entirely).

I asked whether Maxi could stand up for Midi in the playground and talk down anyone teasing her sister. Maxi fretted about getting into trouble from her teacher for saying unkind things to other kids. “But what if that kid is being unkind to your sister?” I challenged. Maxi looked torn.

So that got us on to what happens when people collectively choose to keep quiet and just let wrong things happen. I told them about the Civil Rights Movement in America in the 60s. We talked about how many countries actually have to have laws now safeguarding people with different coloured skin, religion, sexuality, gender and disabilities because as a group, humans don’t seem to be brave enough to stand up to discriminating individuals and challenge their behaviours. We talked about how sometimes you have to weigh up the consequences of putting your head above the crowd and saying aloud, “That’s not right!” with what’ll happen if you just ignore it. Sometimes it’s best to say nothing, sometimes it’s not.

“You 3 children have been blessed with good brains. I hope I can teach you to use them properly and to judge right from wrong. I hope you can decide when to be brave and stand up and speak out against wrong-doing. If you do, I’ll always back you. Always. Even if you get into trouble”, I said. And gulped – I saw a suspicious light shining in Midi’s eyes, which may not be a good thing…

So then that took me onto refugees fleeing Syria in their millions, dying in their thousands, and why people in the rest of the world are upset and angry about it. Some people are angry about what their countries are doing about it, and some are angry about what their countries are NOT doing about. Who’s right? Who can know? We talked about what we can do, and I told them about some people locally collecting clothes, tents, toiletries, money, etc. I told them that the problem won’t go away by just sheltering the millions – there needs to be both short and long-term help. And sometimes it’s seems like such a huge problem that lots of people don’t know where to start or don’t think they can do anything, so feel frozen. And do nothing.

That then took us on to World War 2 (by this time we were home and sitting at the dinner table with a very perplexed-looking Boss) and how just escaping to the geographically nearest country didn’t exactly help lots of Jews… We talked about how Britain tried to be a bit understanding and did nothing at the start, then waded in, and what some of the consequences were.

didn’t talk about Britain and America’s involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan because we would have got bogged down even more in discussing when/whether it’s proper to impose your ideas of what constitutes right and wrong. That can wait for a few years (!)

I think most of it went over their heads, and I’m dreading to think what bits stuck and that they’re now parroting in school today. But for me:

Short-term – I’m donating some supplies locally.

Medium-term – I’ve signed petitions asking for my country to accept more refugees.

Long-term – I’m trying my absolute best to bring up my children, and therefore the next generation, to empathise with their fellow humans and to be brave enough to speak out against wrong. I hope they become wise enough to judge when speaking up is enough and when taking action is merited.

Shamone: The Definition

“What does ‘shamone’ mean, Mummy?” asked Maxi as I drove her home from Cubs, shrieking along to some Scissor Sisters song on the radio.

I took a deep breath, remembered that it was only me and Maxi in the car, and launched into a complicated explanation. I told her all about an old TV comedy and how that was based on Michael Jackson’s use of the word in ‘Bad‘. I explained that what made it funny was that a softly-spoken, religious man was being depicted as a foul-mouthed ghetto-language speaker.

“So”, I explained, “When lots of people say ‘Sha-MOOOONE!” like that, they’re imitating the Michael Jackson character in Bo’ Selecta, but missing out the motherf***er bit”.

Maxi nodded thoughtfully. “Doesn’t sound very funny”.

“No. I guess not”, I agreed.

“But what does motherf***er mean?” she asked.

Oh no… I am such a bad mother… Why did I give her such a detailed explanation?! So we talked about slang words for sex and incest and why I didn’t want to hear her use those words. “If you say them at school, you’ll get suspended. And if you tell one of your friends, their parents will go bonkers with us both. Ohhhhh, I should never have said anything…!”, I said, metaphorically wringing my stupid hands (I was driving. They stayed on the steering wheel. Honest)

Mummy's an eejit!

Mummy’s an eejit!

“Mum, if I wasn’t your daughter, I’d say you were an idiot”, said Maxi.

“And I’d agree”, I said sadly.

“So, basically, what you’re saying is that ‘shamone’ means ‘woohoo'”, said my clever little daughter. “Why didn’t you just say that in the first place?”


That’s the second time this week one of the minxes has left me speechless.

Easy Quick Crafting: Lavender Bags

The minxes were playing in the garden first thing this morning when it was sunny. They’re still obsessed with making perfume out of petals, just like I was at their age: Daisy Dream, Lovely Lavender, Pongy Poppy…

I saw Midi pull the flowery parts off the nearly-dried lavender and had an idea – why not make super-simple flower sachets? I have a ton of fabric, lace, ribbon, pinking shears and flowers. Perfect!

First I got her to draw around an upturned cereal bowl with a biro on some fabric. She then cut the circle out with pinking shears.

Maxi cutting out a fabric circle

Maxi cutting out a fabric circle

While she did that, I got some single-sided interfacing, folded it in half, and cut out a square. I used the edge of a hot iron to fuse 2 sides of it. Midi poured in her petals and seeds and I fused the remaining open side shut with the iron. Ta-da! The fastest, most secure little petal sachet EVER!

Midi with unsealed sachet of interfacing

Midi with unsealed sachet of interfacing

Then Midi scooped up her fabric circle, stuffed the petal sachet inside, then used ribbon and lace to tie the circle together into a little bag. It’s now under her pillow.

Midi's finished lavender bag

Midi’s finished lavender bag

Mini and Maxi made one each, too: once Mini managed to peel her nose off hers, she decided to use hers to air the stuffy living room whereas Maxi’s is tucked into a stuffed toy. Ah well – super-mega crafting brownie points for me today from the girls, and it took literally 60 seconds to tidy up afterwards. Win!

Twas The Night Before School

Things you don’t want to discover the day before your kids go back to school Number 428:

– a mouldy banana that’s been festering in a school bag for 6 weeks that Maxi claimed to have emptied before she stuffed it in the back of the cupboard.

I tell you, this thing wasn’t just mouldy – everything touching it had grown white, hairy fur and was slimy and runny, whilst the ex-banana was now a black stick. A very smelly black stick.

(speaking minion): "...ban-nan-na?"

(speaking minion): “…ban-nan-na?”

I wish I’d taken a photo of it, but I was far too disgusted. Maxi’s book bag had grown a new personality from the mould. So I had to scrub it with a nailbrush (after beating it with a stick) and dettoled the heck out of it. The school bag got binned. Maxi cried. She hates new things and has had the neon hi-vis yellow bag since she started school. So I can’t complain too much about having to stump up the cash for a new school bag, really.

There was a silver lining to that (furry, mouldy) cloud: every year she acts like I’m ripping her arms off as I help her decide how much of the mountain of precious, treasured scraps of paper she’s taken home from school at the end of the year that she can keep. Most years we spend literally days while she tries to negotiate around my hardline “You can’t keep it all; choose your favourite 5 things only”. This year? She binned everything. Immediately. By choice. Bonus!

I also didn’t need to find out that Midi has sprouted in the past 6 weeks and no longer fits any of her polo shirts. And is too slender to wear Maxi’s polo shirts. I guess she’ll be wearing school dresses for the next week or so, then!

Mini Minx has been full of bravado for the past year about starting school tomorrow. She’s been desperate to read her own bedtime stories and indeed write her own stories to accompany her drawings. She’s always said that the thing she’s most looking forward to is doing homework (!) She took the news about her teacher leaving suddenly to be replaced by a teacher she’s never met in her stride.

Tonight, she confided in me that she’d “had a chat with my worry dolls”: she’s worried that her new teacher won’t like her. I explained that Mrs F was maybe feeling the same way right about now, as it would be her first day, too. Mini giggled. Then looked worried again. This evening we had a huge Mummy Snuggle, which is a very rare treat from the most independent of my daughters.

Mini the Dictator

Mini the Dictator

She’ll be just fine starting school tomorrow along with her sisters and her friends from the nursery and the older class. But it’s startling when she just occasionally lets me see that she’s still just a wee growing human, and not 100% dogmatic, independent, driven machine.

The wee love

Taking the Minxes for a Pub Lunch

Today I sweetened the hellish ordeal that is school shoe shopping for 3 girls by taking them all the way to Arbroath and going to Wetherspoons for lunch.

It wasn’t just for the treat – I may have looked like a harassed, dumpy, middle aged mum to casual eyes, but underneath I was an eagle-eyed, inquisitive, secret reviewer of The Corn Exchange‘s child-friendliness for the Soil Association. As I explained when I reviewed our lunch out at McDonalds last week, the Soil Association are using an army of parent volunteers to help them in their Out To Lunch mission to assess and improve big food chains’ approach to feeding and serving children.

So how did our visit go? Well, we loitered outside in the sunshine for a while, reading the displayed menu in detail and bickering over whether it was ok for one girl to have a lemon San Pellegrino if the others were having orange… Give me strength! I must have banged my head letting them drink fizzy pop at all. But better to get the squabbles over and done with in private before walking past the big “Families Welcome” sign.

I settled the minxes at a big empty table before ordering immediately. Children weren’t welcome at the bar itself, so I had to leave them at the table and hope for good behaviour  (“You’re in charge of her; you’re in charge of her; you’re in charge of the table; you’re in overall charge; I’m right over there at the bar and I can see and hear everything!“).

There was no children’s menu, so I had a lot of questions about which meals might be appropriate for the younger girls and whether the adult food portion sizes could be varied. The staff member taking my order (the Duty Manager) apologised for there being no children’s menus out and said that the portion sizes couldn’t be varied. Oh. However, she made some appropriate alternative suggestions for Midi and Mini’s orders.

I delivered the kids’ Ultimate Treat Fizzy Drinks then decided to chance their good behaviour lasting long enough for me to swing past the toilets to check on a few other things:

  • There are no babychanging facilities signposted. I watched a woman with a baby try the disabled toilet (locked), then the ladies toilet (clean, airy but no changing area), then search for a staff member to fetch the radar key for the disabled toilet. I hope that full nappy held on long enough…
  • The high-chairs are the brilliant sit-beside-the-table ones, so the baby is sitting with the whole family rather than being a little outcast satellite self-contained table.
  • Lots of the restaurant’s tables are in booths or in cosy nooks, giving good privacy for breastfeeding.

Well, I was only gone 5 mins maximum, but when I came back the food had already been served. My heart sank, anticipating microwaved, rubbery rubbish. But it actually looked, smelled and tasted good. Maxi and Midi had obviously been charmed by the waitress while I was away. They said she’d been careful to make sure they all had the correct meals, had explained the cutlery (Midi and Mini were given a teaspoon alongside standard cutlery; there was no child’s cutlery when I asked) and had been very friendly:

Maxi: “She didn’t seem like she was rushing away. When she asked us a question, she actually waited until we’d replied and really listened. Not like you, Mum”.

Maxi and I had lasagne; Midi and Mini had the children’s cheesy pasta (macaroni and cheese with some broccoli stalks and peas stirred through); we had a couple of additional sides because we’re all garlic freaks and are greedy.

So, 5 mins to plate all that means it’s obviously pre-prepared food. I guess it makes sense: the menu stresses the calorific value of every single dish and all its variations, so to do that you’d have to have very precise portions and ingredients. In fact, online there’s an extremely detailed nutritional analysis of every meal. That’s fine if you care about numbers, though not all calories are equal… Looking round at the very busy Tuesday lunch-time crowd, about half were families, and lots were engaged in that thrice-daily struggle of getting food into little Johnny / Janie and to hell with whether it’s the low-cal option or not – is it good food and does it taste nice? To be fair, the food was tasty enough for that to be no problem at all for my 3 at least – they enjoyed their meals very much:

Midi: “You could taste the actual cheese in the macaroni cheese!” (As opposed to…? I was too afraid to ask)

Midi again: “The broccoli and peas were like our veg, which is really good” (Was that distant praise for my cooking?! Surely not)

Mini: “It’s so yummy! Much nicer than your macaroni” (No. No praise for my cooking at all, there).

Talking of the broccoli and peas, I loved that the children’s food came with 2 green veg and a fruit bag as standard; chips, garlic bread and fizzy drinks* were extras. Normally it’s the other way round – I usually have to ask for extra / any vegetables – so that makes me feel that someone’s thinking about the nutritional content of the food served. It would have been even better if the fruit had been a wee bowl of fresh fruit instead of processed, bagged Del Monte apple slices and grapes, but that’s just me nit-picking. Would the person preparing the (good) adult side salads have the capacity to chop extra fruit, too?

*Well, I say that fizzy drinks are extras. But now that I’m home and can actually look at the children’s menu, I can see that I could have had fizzy pop or a healthy drink included as part of the meal. What a shame – if I’d known, I’d have asked for the free bottle of water as well as ordering the Evil Fizzy Pop for the kids anyway.

Mini's lunch today has been brought to you by the colour yellow

Mini’s lunch today has been brought to you by the colour yellow

OK, ok, the fizzy pop: when I ordered it, I assumed I’d get 4 cans or maybe 4 tall glasses to pour it into (and then spend the rest of the meal mopping up the repeatedly knocked over contents). But instead the Duty Manager filled 4 huge brandy-style glasses with ice, added a big chunk of freshly-cut fruit into each, popped in a straw, and added the pop. The minxes eyes were as big as the glasses. As I watched their chubby wee fingers grip the round glasses and stubby stems, it slowly became obvious that these fishbowl glasses were a stroke of genius: easy to grip, near impossible to knock over, sophisticated-looking and stable enough to cope with the inevitable, frenzied ‘poking the fruit with the straw’. Fantastic! I’m a convert. Maybe I’ll buy my future grandchildren a set of brandy glasses instead of sippy cups…

So would I eat there again? Yes. Yes, I would. It cost twice as much as the McDonalds lunch but the improvement in comparable food quality meant it was better value for money. And it filled us up for longer. I think Wetherspoons have tasty, decent fast-food for kids at a reasonable price nailed. They just need to make more child-friendly amenities available to move them from good to great.

This doesn’t look like lemonade. Are you sure we’re in the right pub, Kyle? Photo: artwork available from HistoricalFindings on Amazon

Two 15-Minute Lunches

First, catch your squid...

First, catch your squid…

So, how did the squid-as-a-craft-activity go?

Well, I really hyped it up to the minxes: wow, you’ll be learning more sharp knife skills, and you’ll be making your own lunch! They sat down at their chopping boards, took one look at the squid, and wailed, “Ewwwwww!” as one. Harrumph! These are the girls who munched calamari happily as single-toothed babies? My, how they’ve changed! I think you can see by the photo (left) that only Mini is a good actress for the camera.

I persevered. I got them to pull out the tentacles, wash the body, find and pull out the clear plasticky quill, cut out the beak and chop the tentacles with scissors, then one by one (with me hovering), slice up the body into rings with a big sharp knife. Midi was the only one who actually concentrated – her sisters legged it to wash their hands as soon as I released them from service.

So Midi got to prepare and cook lunch for us all as a treat. It was a really quick and simple Pasta and Squid Arrabiata, served up 15 minutes after starting if you’re an adult happy with a sharp knife, 25 minutes if you’re a 7 yo under instruction. This was enough for an adult and 3 hungry children:

My favourite lunch. Drool!

My favourite lunch. Drool!


  • 1 chopped onion
  • 2 crushed garlic cloves
  • splash of olive oil
  • half a red chilli, finely minced
  • 20 halved baby plum tomatoes (or a couple of handfuls of any chopped tomatoes: it’s just what was in the fridge needing used up)
  • 12 torn basil leaves
  • 4 small sliced squid


  1. Put whatever pasta you’re having it with on to boil separately; deal with that alongside making this sauce.
  2. Fry the onion and garlic in the oil over a medium-high heat in a big saucepan for a few minutes until they start to go brown.
  3. Add the tomatoes, chilli, salt and pepper. Fry for another few minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. Add the squid and basil leaves. Fry for 3 – 5 minutes. Stop when the squid’s just cooked and no more. If you cook too long it’ll go rubbery and inedible.
  5. Toss the sauce through some cooked pasta and serve up with lemon wedges.

Personally, I absolutely loved it: the smell reminded me of delicious summer holiday lunches in Menorca and Greece, back when we could afford to go, and it tasted fresh and garlicky and sweet. Yummy!

Little horror!

Little horror!

The minxes hated it. They gave me the full eye-rolling, head-lolling, drooling, crying, nose-wrinkling, gagging hysteria. I wouldn’t have minded if they’d actually tried any of it first, but they refused to even taste it. I demanded that they eat all the pasta, a piece of tentacle and a single squid ring before they left the table. Midi complied quite happily with that, leaving the rest of her squid in a neat pile at the edge of her bowl; her sisters didn’t, and spent the entire time it took Midi to eat with their tongues hanging out their mouths in disgust.

I guess that won’t be going down in their list of current favourite lunches. But I’ve added the recipe here because I know they’d demolish it and ask for seconds if they’d been given it in a restaurant. And I love it! (As does my purse, at 30p a squid). <—— squid’s in! I’ll get my coat…


The imaginatively-named Green Pasta Sauce

The imaginatively named Green Pasta Sauce

Today’s lunch was the opposite way round: they loved it, whilst I was ambivalent. It’s one of their favourites – Green Pasta Sauce – and it’s a 10-minute lunch from flash to bang. This is for 1 adult and 3 hungry children, and again start with putting whatever pasta you’re eating it with on to boil, and keep an eye on that while you make the sauce:


  • a large 2-pint jug stuffed full of spinach leaves
  • 3 tablespoons of cream cheese (or equivalent in processed cheese triangles; I used 4 Laughing Cow triangles)


  1. Wash the spinach (run the jug under the tap, then drain it out), cover the jug and nuke it on High in the microwave for 2 minutes. It’ll now be about 2 tablespoons-worth of dark green stuff.
  2. Whizz it up with a stick blender.

    Spinach waiting to be whizzed

    Add the cream cheese / cheese triangles and a bit of pepper (pinch of grated nutmeg if you have it and are feeling fancy). Whizz again till it’s creamy.

  3. Dollop over the pasta.


Little madam!

Little madam!

The spinach I planted in May bolted ages ago, but I kept it in the ground (a) to see what the flowers would look like, and (b) to prop up the broccoli growing beside it. I read that bolted spinach should be ripped up and thrown away because it tastes bitter. Well, I had a wee nibble and it tasted quite sweet to me. Midi agreed. So I pulled up 3 half-metre (!) stalks of spinach and got her to strip the leaves from them to use in today’s green pasta sauce. Yes, it had a stronger flavour than usual, but it’s not bitter or unpleasant. Perfect!