Wednesday, 20 November 2013

All dogs go to heaven

This week my mum’s old dog died. In his prime, he was a handsome Show Champion with the world at his paws. But lately he hadn’t been too steady on those paws, and while his golden heart and his spirit were still strong, Merkel could no longer stand long enough to get himself to the garden when he needed to. Drugs were no longer keeping his aches and pains from arthritis at bay and it was time to let him go.

Merkel was my eldest daughter’s favourite dog. She has a large printout of a photo of her proudly walking him (recall whistle around her neck) on her bedroom door. Telling her he had been put to sleep broke my heart a little – and the news naturally made her bury her head in her pillow too. She is sad that his is gone – but accepting that he had got older and weaker, and that sometimes the kinder thing is to say goodbye before a loved pet suffers.

Brothers and sisters, I bid you beware, Of giving your heart to a dog to tear.
The Power of the Dog - Kipling
Behind him, however, he leaves a legacy. As well as children, grandchildren and great, great grandchildren (!) across the countryside he will always be the first dog my daughter loved. Although as a Hungarian Vizsla, Merkel was medium to large build, he was very gentle and biddable. When he curled up in front of the fire he took his blankie with him, and sucked either that or his toe. He always had a soft toy with him too – which he displayed proudly to anyone he could. He thoroughly enjoyed playing with the puppies born in his house – and offered whelping bitches respite as their offspring tested out their teeth on his ears. He was always pleased to see two-legged guests too and let my children walk, lead and play with him, sitting, fetching and returning as they commanded.

It is often said that alongside health benefits, such as reducing allergies and stress and increasing time spent outdoors, pets offer children the opportunity to learn about responsibility and nurturing – and ultimately about loss too. These lessons are life skills that will prove invaluable as they grow older. But Merkel taught my girls so much more than that. He taught them to be generous with both enthusiasm and love – and for that alone, he will always be cherished.

Rest in peace you fine old man.

Friday, 15 November 2013

It’s beginning to look at lot like Christmas

Anyone else feeling it yet? Trying to hold back from getting up in the loft for those decorations? Spotting the perfect presents for your nearest and dearest? Feeling just slightly overwhelmed by juggling family, school and work commitments as you write festive dates in your diary? Well thanks to Yellow Moon, Holburn House has well and truly kicked off Christmas with some Yuletide crafting.

In our house, we have two Christmas trees. The one I control, which must be themed, co-ordinated and PERFECT – and the one the kids are allowed to touch. I’m not usually such an interiors Nazi (one look at the new porch will tell you that, it’s just a dumping ground), so to avoid tears (and let’s be clear about this, I mean mine) a little while ago I invested in a kid-sized tree that the girls could easily reach and hang their own ‘decorations’ on, any way they want (usually all on one side, with no thought to colour or co-ordination – there I go again…). Ideally it would have two points – so that they can both choose exactly what goes on the top – but it mostly allows them free reign and independence.

Some finished items - for their tree...

At the start of December, we always head off to The Tree Barn at the aptly-named Christmas Common. This local haunt is the stuff of Xmas dreams – the sort of place where you actually see families walking out carrying huge trees fresh from the farm, Dad at the front, kids at the rear, all bundled up in winter woollies and wellies. Inside you will find huge trees decorated in themes (as it should be) – with everything you need to recreate the look beneath. Alongside the real trees, wreaths and mistletoe offered outside, the barn itself also has tinsel, baubles, twinkly lights, stockings, cards, nativity scenes, novelty Christmas gifts, crackers – basically the whole shebang! I love it. The kids get to choose a decoration each, and I slowly but surely add to my haul of festive embellishments. This year, I will mostly be buying lights for outside the new porch...

The Tree Barn - where the trees are themed (because there is no other way).

As well as these carefully chosen pieces however, this year my children will also unleash upon the tree some rather impressive ceramic decorations they have crafted themselves. Using special porcelain pens (some pearlised, others with glitter) from Yellow Moon, the girls were able to beautify some ceramic tree decorations and baubles – with rather impressive results (bar the pen marks on the leggings, my bad!).

The plain tree ornaments arrived safely-packaged among boxes and polystyrene (which I will re-use to pack them away for years to come) – and were met with squeals of delight as I revealed each design. Negotiations quickly commenced about who got to decorate what (but at £4.99 for 6, you could easily get a couple of packs). The plain baubles sent the older one into a flurry of paper-design ideas (I think pre-planning is something school is teaching her) – and had me itching to demand a turn. I seriously think adults would enjoy decorating them – like going to those kiddie pottery places in the evening and painting a plate while sipping on Sauvignon…

The Yellow Moon baubles

Anyway, messy fun soon commenced and the decorations and baubles are now fully (FULLY!) festooned with pictures, blocks of colour and wiggly writing. I look forward to getting them out each year – especially when the girls are older and splodgy hand prints and glitter are well behind them – when all I'll have left is my memories (sob).
All in all, it was a great way to spend a winters afternoon warming up for Christmas – and triggered an immediate need for mince pies! The girls have made some lovely additions to our haul of Yuletide trimmings, and it really got me in the mood for festive fun. How many sleeps ‘til Santa?

Are you counting down the days - or are you saying bah humbug to it all? Let me know in the comment box below.

The nice people at Yellow Moon provided my kids with the sample items used in this blog. I mention The Tree Barn because it's my happy place.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Dubai gets the seal of approval...

My younger daughter has two defining characteristics: she will not walk if she can convince someone to carry her (enter stage left Daddy) and she likes a clean toilet. She REALLY likes a clean toilet. She will not use a loo if the previous occupant has not flushed, if there’s debris on the floor (paper, empty loo rolls), if it is dark, cold or wet, if there is any chance of spiders inhabiting it or it is a compost loo (found that one out while we were ‘wild’ camping).

Princesses don't have to walk when there's a camel around...

As such, you might think that travelling with her would prove difficult. Well not if you happen to be going to spend a week with family in Dubai. Because Dubai has the poshest, most plentiful public WCs I’ve happened across. And I’ve happened across a lot – and can claim to have used what is thought to be the ‘highest toilet in the world’ in Potala, Lhasa (I might add it is three hundred years old!!).

But of course, that’s not a reason in itself to take the kids to Dubai…there’s lots of other ways to entertain them in one of the fastest growing cities on earth.

Let’s go to the mall
The average kid would not opt to spend a holiday shopping – but in Dubai a mall is so much more that a collection of glittering shops (that mummy would dearly loved to have gone in – sob). In fact in Dubai, these impressive air-conditioned feats of architecture don’t just offer an impressive range of shops and eateries, but compete to keep you entertained for the whole day – with everything from huge aquariums, ski slopes, ice rinks, cinemas, theatres and gyms. Dubai Mall is the world’s largest (they are big on world records over there) but each and every one has something to entice you in. The Malls are also a meeting place for the locals – and for the expat community – so offer great people-watching potential too, when your legs (or those smaller ones accompanying you) have tired and you need to take respite in say, Starbucks, Costa, Carluccio’s or Baskin Robbins (yes, every single brand you can think of has a presence in Dubai!).

Candylicious is the one shop the kids were happy to go in...

Water, water everywhere

Hot weather is great and so is sand, but a dessert climate without water is no fun at all, so I can see why everywhere you go in Dubai you happen across impressive fountains and water features (there’s a massive one in the airport for a start). There are also a ton of swimming pools and acres and acres of beautiful beaches with soft white sand and sunsets to die for.

If you want to see the crème de la crème of fountains, head to the Dubai Fountain (watch them here) located in front of the Burj Khalifa (the tallest building in the world obvs), and set on a 30-acre manmade lake. Several times a day (and every 30 minutes in the evening) the illuminated fountains will ‘dance’ to music, shooting water up as high as 500 ft (150 metres). It’s like fireworks without the loud bangs and chance you might need eye surgery.

And if you want to soak up some sun but also like a decent shower afterwards and more privacy than a poorly-placed towel affords head to the Jumeirah Beach Park (part beach, part park), which offers clean toilets (!) and dressing rooms, a swimming pool, volleyball courts, play areas, picnic tables, a barbecue area and food outlets, as well as a jetty area fronting on to the lifeguarded beach (check which days are ladies-only though – unless you are an all-female group of course). And the sea there is warmer than some baths I’ve had…

Playing in the sand at sunset...

Up the Creek

Another great place to spend a day with kids is The Dubai Creek Park. This historic focal point is now a large, open space with plenty of room for children to roam (if it’s not too hot). There are plenty of picnic areas, bikes to rent, a train and a cable car. You can also take a boat ride to see some more authentic sights. Within the park you can also visit the Dolphinarium for regular shows or even to swim with the dolphins, and Children’s City – a hands-on museum come discovery centre where children can investigate and learn about the world in various galleries and a planetarium.

Toilet-humour aside, what would your child’s ideal holiday location be? Disneyland? Somewhere with a beach? Up a mountain? Up in space? And how does that differ from what you would choose? Let me know in the comment box below.