Wednesday, July 2, 2014

At 4 Years, You Give Blisters

So, as evidenced by my hinting at the subject for ages, as well as the title of this post, our fourth anniversary trip was a walking holiday in Cornwall. We divested ourselves of the boys by leaving them in the loving care of their grandparents in Berkshire for four days while we traveled as far west as we could go and still be in England.


The first day, we arrived in Penzance and strolled west to Marazion in order to go and see St. Michael's Mount. Alas, we were too late in the day to walk the causeway (the tide had come in) but we had a nice boat ride there and back and got to enjoy walking up to the top of the island and touring the castle (a National Trust property).

In the end, we covered about 11 miles going around the island, through Penzance, and along the South West Coast Path - our chosen highway for most of the walking holiday. My initial plan had been to walk 7 miles the first day out to St. Michael's Mount and back, followed by 17 miles to Land's End, then 22.8 miles to St. Ives, then back down 12 miles across the peninsula along St. Michael's Way - the old pilgrim trail - to end up back in Penzance.

Surely, we thought, this would be a piece of cake. Sure, we'd be tired, but we'd manage it easily. That, I can confidently say, was my hubris talking.

This is just a sample of the sort of terrain we covered during our nearly-17-mile hike over to Land's End.

Over rocks and under rocks; up hills and down cliff faces; along beaches and through hedges, we hiked, slogged, and limped our way to our destination. You see, neither of us bothered to check the elevation along our chosen route, and so didn't factor in just how tiring it would be to add in all of the ascents and descents.




But, in the end, we made it to Land's End and gratefully soaked in hot baths, lounged on the bed watching crap telly, and called the in-laws to see how our boys were treating them.


The next day, we had breakfast in the gorgeous restaurant: about 200° views of the Atlantic ocean through all the conservatory-style glass walls. We were stiff and sore and blistered, but decided to attempt to press on...if in truncated fashion. So we set off past Sennen Cove and along the Coast Path. Eventually, we turned inland and made our way towards St. Just. The village itself was adorable; the walk, however was vicious. Scorching sun, biting gadflies, overgrown footpaths, and boggy fields. In the end, we decided the better option would have been to stay on the Coast Path for longer, even if it added to the distance we traveled.

But, we made it there in one piece and sat to have lunch and enjoy the scenery before taking the open-top tourist bus to our backpackers' hostel in Zennor.

St. Just Church...much nicer inside than we'd initially thought!
The hostel - The Old Chapel Cafe & Guesthouse - was brilliant. The rooms were spacious, clean, well-appointed, and took full advantage of the gorgeous windows you get in an old church building. The cafe downstairs was cute and there was an adorable gift shop full of snazzy little handmade & small production gifts...many from local artists & companies. Plus, and this is an entirely irrelevant detail - the whole place smelled like my old summer camp, Arlington Echo. Seriously: the smell of the cafe was the smell of the old dining hall from all my years of band camp. Nostalgia is a lovely thing.


St. Senara Church in Zennor...very big on the mermaid theme.

The next morning it was on to St. Ives and the journey back. By this point we'd done 11 miles on Thursday, 16.5 on Friday, and 6.5 on Saturday. 34 miles in three days was still wearing on us, so rather than try to hike the 5 miles to St. Ives over what we'd been told was very difficult terrain, we opted to take the tourist bus instead and have a relaxing last day in Cornwall wandering St. Ives and doing a bit of shopping.





St. Ives was gorgeous and loads of fun. There were cute shops, fun restaurants, awesome art galleries, all sorts of opportunities to bring back nice little gifts for everyone (including ourselves!), and a great prominade facing the bay where we sat and ate lunch from a scrummy little pasty shop.

We arrived back in Penzance just in time to catch a bit of the Golowan festival. We were tired and not quite in the mood for working through a claustrophobic press of people, but there was still a fun vibe, lots of tasty-smelling food & drink, and some relaxing outdoor music as we made our way back to the car.

We'll definitely be going back to Cornwall at some point in the near future: it was just too much fun not to! Even if we did break ourselves trying to hike the Coast Path. Ah well: happy anniversary to us!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Whiling Away The Time

We've not been up to too much of interest lately. Lots of reading, bike riding, and duplo-building. A Fathers' Day outing back to The Vyne, planning a walking holiday in Cornwall (!!!), and coming to the sad realisation that we have long to wait before the next season of GoT. But don't just take my word for it! ...Or, do take my word for it...along with some pictures, because that's what I've got to share with you!

A picturesque Fathers' Day
My other engineering genius.



Basically every other afternoon for the past fortnight
has been these two wheeling around our carpark.






5 months old and already a champion on the swings








Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Kirstie Allsopp and the Daughter I Don't Have

So, something has finally piqued my interest enough to make me write about it. And that something is TV presenter Kirstie Allsopp's comment about how young women should postpone university education in order to find a flat, bag a boy, and proceed with procreating.

The Guardian seems to cover it pretty well from both sides: a summary of Allsopp's original comments and another article detailing the backlash from teachers who found her comments to young women patronizing. Essentially, the offending thought boils down to this quote from Allsopp:

“I don’t have a girl, but if I did I’d be saying 'Darling, do you know what? Don’t go to university. Start work straight after school, stay at home, save up your deposit – I’ll help you, let’s get you into a flat. And then we can find you a nice boyfriend and you can have a baby by the time you’re 27.”

Personally, my own thought is that some of the best commentary on the matter has come in the form of Caitlin Moran's Tweets on the subject:








And that's where I chime in: I personally find it patronizing to suggest that what you need to be doing with your life as a woman is getting on the baby-making train as quickly as you can. Leaving aside the fact that, in spite of Allsopp's scaremongering about declining fertility after 35, there are plenty of ways to make a family, some people don't want children! And - shock and horror - some of those childless by choice are women! Some people make better parents once they've had a few years to grow up, get a few things out of their systems, and learn a measure of calm and patience.

Personally, I know I got married and had my kids relatively young. I'm only just 27 for crying out loud and I'm coming up on my 4-year anniversary with 2 lovely little boys currently napping in their room as I type. But, unlike the example of Allsopp's fictional daughter, I also got my Master's degree before I was off and away, married and pregnant and living in the English countryside. I worked - albeit briefly - in the industry I want to break back into once my boys are in school. While I'm technically closer to the model that Allsopp advocates than the alternative that every other feminist will promote to a girl, I can still see why her comments feel patronizing.

Going from your father's house to your husband's to install yourself as the proverbial pregnant and barefoot in the kitchen wife and mother has been an option - often, the only option outside of life in a convent - open to women throughout history. It's the vanilla ice cream of women's life paths: we know it's there, no one's forgetting about that option. But what about those of us who want to marry the woman of our dreams? What about those of us who would adopt or otherwise have kids on our own regardless of whether we find a romantic partner to share our lives with? What about those of us who would prefer to chase a career and be the best at what we enjoy; let everything else fall where it may? What about those of us who have no idea yet what the hell we want to do with our lives if we ever reach the point of feeling grown up?

Yes, I understand that if a woman wants to gestate and birth her own offspring from her own uterus, the time is a'ticking. But we all still owe ourselves the time to really consider the decisions we want to make with our lives. After all, this is the one life we have: there are no do-overs. I take Allsopp's point about the 15-year window in which, as women encourage to try and "have it all", we must somehow manage to do it all. Find a partner, get an education, wrangle a place to live, claw our way into gainful employment, and - oh yeah - somehow take the time away from at least two of those endeavours (ideally after accomplishing the other two first) in order to adopt, gestate, or foster some human children.

But, to quote again from my Feminist Godmother, Caitlin Moran: "So here is the quick way of working out if you're a feminist. Put your hand in your pants. a) Do you have a vagina? and b) Do you want to be in charge of it? If you said 'yes' to both, then congratulations! You're a feminist." (From her awesomely funny How To Be A Woman)

Guess what? That means you can be a career woman with no children...and be a feminist. You can be a lawyer who picks up her three children from piano lessons...and be a feminist. You can have all the sex you want - even if that means no sex at all...and be a feminist. You can even be a college-educated, stay-at-home mother who still isn't sure exactly what job she wants when she starts full-time employment...and be a feminist.

Not only, as my sister-in-law pointed out on her blog, is feminism not a dirty word, it ought to be inclusive. Like Moran said, this discussion shouldn't be about the One True Way To Feminist. If I were you, (and I'm not, but as I'm blogging, I obviously feel like you deserve my two cents) I would be sceptical of anyone peddling a One True Way to do anything. Except maybe the One True Way to make apple pie. I'm a fairly staunch believer in that. So, as feminists, the only "right way" I can think of to do this movement is to allow women the right to choose.

So to the daughter I don't have, I will say this: take the time to get to know yourself. Think about what you want and make your actions match your priorities where they can. Think about the things you'll need in order to make the life you want. If you want to go to college, you'll need money: figure out how to get it. If you want a rewarding career, you need experience: ask people you respect how they did it. If you want babies, you need all sorts of things, but especially stability and love: take the time to find where you need to be in order to give of yourself in that way. And if you want all of these things? Know that you can't force anyone to make that journey with you. Know that you'll need support; from whatever combinations of friends, family, or a spouse. And know that while you can do anything you want, you can't necessarily do everything you want, and that's true of everyone. Choose the things that are most important to you and stretch yourself to achieve them. Decide what compromises you can make and which ones you can't. But most importantly, don't let anyone tell you that there is one right way to live your life in order to achieve your goals. Different roads can lead to the same place and your only job is to find the road that YOU can best travel.

So, Kirstie Allsopp and everyone else who projects the onus for realising the lives they didn't lead onto their own children: get over yourselves. You won't fix the heartbreak of your own missed opportunities by insisting on treating the next generation as your chance to have your cake and eat it. They have their own lives to live and their own mistakes to make; their own opportunities to miss and their own paths to forge. Leave them to it. And while we're at it, let's all remember that in this world where we're presented with so much, we can do anything we want, just not everything we want.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Oh, yeah...that blog thing...

First my sister came. Then, my parents came with two of my step-sisters to take us on holiday to Dorset. Then, the Husband went away for a week on business to the States. Then Easter showed up with its attendant family visits. And finally, to top it all off, the boys and I got ill and have been hunkered down in the house for nearly a week now.

Great-Grandchildren...all in pairs.


So I'm still the horrible person who has yet to charge the batteries in my camera so I can download the pictures from my sister's stay and the family trip to Dorset, but I have a few Twitter updates and pictures from my father-in-law to make up for it all. Call me low-maintenance, but I can still rustle up a quick update every once in a while.


































Ah well. In the midst of generally struggling at life (and looking up preschools, and booking GP appointments, and clearing eye-bogeys all day) I get a break at last! Tomorrow I get to go to London for a set of history lectures at my old university. History, London, the Tube, and scrummy frozen yoghurt...sounds like a good evening to me!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Our Favourite Reads: Seventh Edition

Back again after a long absence is the latest in a series of posts about all of my favourite children's books that come through the house. With weekly trips to the library, I suppose you'd expect more of these, but then, I've tried to save these posts for the absolute best of the best. So it gives a real thumbs up to this edition's authors that their books have brought back my once regular efforts.

The Emily Brown books are brilliant. My hat is off to Cressida Cowell and Neal Layton. The illustrations are cute, and the formulaic writing is brilliant. There's a great repetition of sounds and sentence structures that's perfect for toddlers, no made-up or intentionally misspoken words (my one gripe about the Charlie & Lola books), and a great picture of a child's imaginary worlds (Emily and her rabbit Stanley go into outer space, search for the source of the Nile, and scooba dive off the Great Barrier Reef).

In Elephant Emergency Emily Brown and Stanley go on adventures with their friend Matilda, but Matilda's Mummy keeps calling their emergency telephone. Only problem? She's not calling about emergencies. Emily Brown is at the end of her tether when she is the one with an emergency and Matilda's Mummy is unavailable!

That Rabbit Belongs to Emily Brown involves a spoiled queen who insists on having Emily's stuffed rabbit Stanley all for herself. Emily Brown rebuffs offers from the queen's Footman, Army, Navy, and Air Force, but the queen is insistent. In the end, it's up to Emily Brown to teach her an important lesson about toys.

I've loved these books from the minute they came back with us. Ethan can already tell me how Emily Brown puts the emergency telephone back on its cradle, and knows to recite the rat-a-tat-tat on the garden door when the queen's henchmen come to call. These are the sort of books that know their target audience well & will stretch them to learn new words & phrases with ease. I'm already resolved that the boys will have their own copies of these before the year is out.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Tech and Toddlers

Alright, I have to jump in now. Particularly as I definitely have a dog in this fight (disturbing as that metaphor is).

As evidenced by the fact that I'm currently on my laptop blogging (as I listen to a podcast playing Just A Minute from BBC's Radio 4), I'm definitely in the camp of people who have a positive attitude towards technology. I have a laptop, we have a desktop, I have a smartphone, and at Christmas we bought a tablet. And guess what? Horror of horrors, I let my 2 1/2-year-old son play with some of these things. He watches Toy Story and Cars on our home computers, I've loaded up episodes of Sarah & Duck on long car trips when Ethan gets bored and irritable, and he has his own user on the tablet to play puzzle games.

So, when I saw this nonsense on the Huffington Post, I had to take a look. To be frank: it's scaremongering. It's reactionary, misleading, and - while well-intentioned - not helpful. I seriously side-eye anyone whose academic rigor is so lacking that they can reductively blame modern technology use, wholesale, for delayed development, epidemic obesity, sleep deprivation, and mental illness. All of those things are much more complex issues than Cris Rowan made them sound in her article. Not to mention, she didn't even make a good case for a causal relationship between heightened technology use by children and any of these conditions. Thankfully, the HuffPo gave airtime to another article which addressed a lot of these points. (Incidentally, most of their rebuttals boil down to Rowan's repeated confusion of correlation and causation and ignoring third-party issues in order to make a stronger case.)

To indulge in a bit of anecdotal evidence: I remember as a kid when we got our first PC. It was a Commodore 64, and I must have been about 6 years old when my dad first set it up on our first floor landing outside of my parents' bedroom. A short time later - after a few games of Jet Boot Jack - the Commodore died and we got a Compaq Presario. My sister and I played all sorts of games on it (including my favourite PC game ever), most of which - if I'm being fair - weren't overtly educational. Sure, I learned how to type properly with that computer: I learned to use the Microsoft Office Suite back when most computers still ran Windows 3.1 (feel old yet?). I learned how to surf the internet and use a search engine on that computer, but mostly it felt like a toy. When I was 14 or 15, my grandfather bought me a Gateway and I did my summer AP assignments on it. I learned to navigate the infancy of social media: chat rooms, MySpace, and AIM. I never realised until later that my years of typing, chatting, surfing, pointing, and clicking had given me useful skills for the workplace and for keeping up meaningful relationships with friends and family half a world away.

And yet, I still got outside, climbed trees, rode bikes, rollerbladed around the car park pretending to be a drive-thru waitress with my best friend, held footraces down our close, and developed the best pitching arm of all the kids on our street...even including the boys in little league. While I never got to keep my tech in my room (beyond my stereo, that is), I never had restrictions on its usage. My mother saw me use it for play and for school. I still did my homework, practised my music, and kept up a healthy social life.

I expect that my boys will be able to do the same. Sure, they're much more inundated with advanced electronics and technology from an earlier age than I was, but that doesn't automatically mean that they're doomed to be obese, lethargic, attention deficit, violent addicts. To suggest a ban on these technologies is irresponsible. Does my son need his own tablet? No. He's two. That's why he only has occasional use of the family device. But should I be restricting all watching of Disney DVDs and CBeebies on iPlayer? No. He needs to be taught responsible consumption of media from an early age. Being allowed small portions of fun things - while it may bring on tantrums when it's time to put toys or tablet away - will help him to mature and learn. He'll learn what my rules are. He'll learn that every activity has its place. He'll learn that throwing a tantrum won't get him what he wants and that disappointment is a part of life that we all deal with.

But do you know what else my sons will learn from being trained on technology from a young age? They'll learn how to do research; something that their historian mother knows is an invaluable skill for school, university, and life beyond. They'll learn STEM skills (science, technology, engineering, maths). With a mechanical engineer for a father - someone who is himself a STEM ambassador at work - we'd be remiss if we kept them from being able to easily develop the sort of skills my husband uses every day in his job. They'll be technologically literate, which is so important; but here's the thing: it won't be at the sacrifice of their social, emotional, physical, or mental development.

Unless you want to move onto a commune or join an Amish community, there's little escape from technology these days. Yes: it's always good to take the time to unplug and unwind, but an outright ban just tilts the ship too far in the other direction. For every stereotype of children using smartphones at the dinner table, or parents distractedly yelling at children while playing Angry Birds or checking Facebook, or overweight children parked on the sofa with cheese puffs and Call of Duty, there are responsible people. People who teach their children limits, as well as technological prowess. Who see smartphones, iPods, tablets, and PCs for what they ought to be: tools to navigate life in the modern world rather than crutches or babysitters.

The real key is to teach balance. To teach healthy respect for handheld tech as a tool: something that makes our lives easier...not something that is our life. Rowan's ostrich-like attitude, her reactionary totalitarian tactic - the ban - isn't helping anyone. It's not helping the children who need to be exposed to technology to learn how to navigate the world around them, and it's not helping the adults who need to be taught healthy limits and self-regulation. And if we're saying that these people who use the TV to babysit their children, or who can't tear themselves away from Candy Crush Saga long enough to be an engaged parent are exactly the reason Rowan calls for a ban, then guess what? Big Brother hand-holding, draconian restrictions, and fearmongering aren't the way to improve them as people.

Of course there will always be people who have the requisite personality and skills to overcome a generational divide in technology adoption, but why bet on your child having the ability to jump an unnecessary hurdle? Teach computer skills and responsible media consumption in the same way that you teach them how to read, how to share, or how to show good manners: early and often.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Stylish Little Men: Elias and Grace

So it's been absolutely ages since I did one of my Stylish Little Men posts. With two little men to dress now, I thought it was time to bring it back; especially when I spotted the cute duds at Elias and Grace - courtesy of a blog post on Babyccino Kids.

I will say this, though: this particular edition is more of a mood board than anything else. Don't get me wrong - it's adorable stuff! But when you can spend £30 on a pair of baby leggings (WTF?) and £80 on a toddler's jumper, it's time to admit that the prices have no basis in reality. I haven't spent £80 on a jumper for me! Let alone someone who will outgrow it in 6-months and get wee, porridge, vomit, and Nutella on it in the meantime.

1) A t-shirt and jean shorts is always a good way to go. Stain-friendly and low-maintenance without looking babyish.
2) Oh look! It's the £80 jumper and a pair of jeans. Seriously. If I'm paying £80 for a jumper for my toddler, I want it to wash itself, and perhaps be made of mithril so it never wears through or snags on the car seat clips or swings at the playground. At least the Breton stripe is a good place to start, style-wise.
3) Olive khaki is a brilliant colour for a coat. It's the sort of piece that means that even when your kid does decide to dress themselves, they never have to look like they dressed themselves.
4) A button-down cardigan is a great piece. And, provided it's not a filthy day at the playground, it can be dressed up or down for just about any sort of day out.
5) Striped t-shirts are lovely, and putting the stripes on a diagonal on the breast pocket is a nice touch.
6) When it comes to the littler boys, a side-button onesie is a great idea. For sick days and doctor's trips, having the option to get them undressed without having to fight to get things over a sweet little melon-head is great. Plus, with leggings, all but the most explosive of nappy changes can be accomplished without sacrificing an entire outfit.

For now, though, I'm back to finishing Hot Fuzz before walking the boys to the health visitors' clinic and a trip to the playground.