Summer Holidays

This summer has been rather amazingly gorgeous in Scotland. Following a delayed and very cold spring , the uncharacteristically sunny days were a welcome treat. After last year’s gloomy wet non-summer, we felt that the only thing that would make our Scottish existence tenable in future would be to escape somewhere sunny for a week or two every summer. So we began planning a trip to Portugal…Then, when it transpired that I would be 8 months pregnant when we were finally free to make our getaway, we revised the plan so that we could have a fortnight on the ‘English Riviera’ of Devon & Cornwall.

By the time our trip rolled around, though we were longing for the break, we no longer felt the need to top up on sunshine and I was not entirely keen on 10+hours of driving to get to our destination.

However, it was our last family of three outing before the baby arrived, we had booked accommodation and we had plans – so off we went to the southern seaside.

We broke our journey with some time in Manchester with Tomandclaireandgrace, which was a perfect bookend to our longest ever time away just the three of us.

Highlights of our time in the south include:

  • Making sand castles on the beach at Dawlish Warren (whilst the doctor roamed out onto the estuary with his bins to spot more birds for the annual tally)

Dawlish sand sculpting

  • A day of blissful birding at the remote (and faintly terrifying to get to/from) Prawle Point

Prawle Point

  • Lunch at the River Cottage Cafe in Plymouth

River Cottage Plymouth

  • Our seventh wedding anniversary, spent on the Bodmin & Wenford Steam Railway, strolling the grounds of Pencarrow House and enjoying a celebratory meal at Rick Stein’s St Petroc’s Bistro in Padstow

Wedding anniversary outing

  • An exhausting but completely entertaining day at The Eden Project

Eden Project

  • A beguiling day spent in the inspiring Lost Gardens of Heligan

Lost Gardens of Heligan

There were many more things to do and see in the area, but being so slow, tiredy and encumbered – and having a four year old to consider as well, meant we didn’t perhaps cover as much ground as we may have done in the past. On reflection, esp after getting stuck in terrible traffic on the first leg of our return journey, it WAS a long way to go. One of the nicest things about coming home was the realisation that we actually LOVE how peaceful it is in our corner of Scotland (Cornwall in particular seemed rather unpleasantly crowded) and feel genuinely lucky to have such beauty and so many wonderful activities/places to eat well in our locale. Since we are in settling down mode, this still strikes me as the best feeling to have brought back from what was still a rather lovely holiday experience.

There’s no place like home…

Growing

Hi friends.  In the silent months since I last really told you about what we have been up to we have just been muddling through.  The lethargy of growing another person has probably made for a rather dull time for the wee guy as I have not been up to much on the weekends since January really.  But then, the weather has kept us indoors longer than usual this winter too – perhaps not a winter of discontent exactly, but definitely of harsh conditions. But while the tiny pre-person has been growing, so has our other little one.  Thankfully, his obsession with Lego and creating new things – and his growing skill in doing so – has meant that those quiet weekend mornings have flown by in a flurry of creative construction.

For helping to put out fires.

We have ventured out at least once a week (if not more) – though not always in the most clement of conditions.  We picked the coldest day for a long time to take a stroll around Cambo gardens recently – at least with full body covering the wee one was happy to go adventuring, and find hidey spots wherever he could, the bamboo was an ideal little cave.

Cambo bamboo

Just as the weather started to warm up, a lovely treasure trove arrived from Nana, including a very handsome cardy that will probably do a couple of winters – it is always such a treat to receive a present from Nana – though I suspect that the dinosaur sticker book was the real attraction in the parcel!

New cardy face

We have been using sticker charts with small rewards for Kaz for over a year now, and for the most part, they result in vastly improved behaviour.  The only time it didn’t work was in an attempt to encourage more milk drinking.  After two days, he announced that ‘I will drink milk when I am five Mama’ and abandoned the sticker chart altogether.  No carrot dangling of reward was going to do the trick!  Latterly, the rewards have become Lego of the very low-price variety.  Which has been a powerful incentive.  (Apart from in the milk department). Some time back Kaz announced that he would like an X-Wing Starfighter as his next sticker chart reward.  This seemed a bit grand, usually the rewards are almost tokens… So we discussed the behaviours we would be looking for (spontaneous use of ‘Please’ and ‘Thankyou’ and staying in his own bed ALL NIGHT – something that is still a bit hit and miss really) and that it would take a LONG time to achieve the reward he was after.  However, after nearly two months of stickering, and MUCH improved behaviours, the day of the X-Wing finally arrived.  He was so excited…after it was earned and ordered, he asked about it every morning, the buildup was just like Christmas.  It took us all about an hour and a half to construct it (largely because we were just guiding him through the process) and for once, it may stay fully assembled – most of the other Lego articles are deconstructed and pooled for extra creative play not long after being introduced.

The X-wing is here Mama!

As an educator, I tried a range of differing discipline styles in my classroom and boarding house.  Mostly I veered towards positive strategies centering on catching and rewarding good behaviour. Occasionally, due to the culture of the institution I worked in, or the nature of the infringing behaviour, there was the inevitable need for punishment as well.  But I have never been a fan of any kind of punishment that did not fit the crime, did not address the actual perpetrator, and did not help to encourage improved behaviour.  There has been a lot of debate in my homeland lately regarding the anti-smacking laws - or the removal of the use of the legal defence of  ‘reasonable force’ in parental crimes of assault against children.   I am not intending to wade into this debate.  From a personal perspective, I don’t intend to ever hit our children, and so I hope to employ other (hopefully more effective) ways of encouraging them to behave in the manner I would prefer.  Of course, this is easily said when the behaviours we are seeking to modify are those of a preschooler.  Ask me about this again in 10 years time!  One thing that worries me about using incentivising tools is that children become – as they get older – rather adept at producing the behaviour for cynical ends.  This is already a little evident in Kazuo’s negotiations.  But each stage – and each new challenge – requires a little more thought about how to bring out the best in this little social experiment we are producing.

What are your thoughts about how to bring out the best in children?

Another Long Silence

The past months have really silenced me more than usual.  Let’s face it, since I began to work everywhere…and thus to really use this space to reflect on how we filled the interstices of our abundant yet somewhat overfilled life and to keep those of our widely dispersed family and friends even a tiny bit connected with our activities…I have been erratic and mostly silent anyway.  However, it is with fairly good reason this time…I’ve been incubating again.  It has taken a bit of getting used to, and I have been rather exhausted by the whole experience.  But it seems that the little pre-person is taking shape slowly, and I am well into that supposedly more lively second trimester.  So this is the latest excuse for my silence, and will probably inform future musings.  We are slowly getting excited and the little guy seems rather relieved that he is not going to have to carry on being the only kid around here!

Construction has begun

Four Fab Years

We now have a big four year old in the house!  Properly pre-school since this year marks the year Kazuo will start school.  He is so proud of being four and being so big.  We have had a delightful four years so far with our wee guy and we are so glad to celebrate his arrival in our midst.

Finally Four!

Sunday was Space Birthday Party day.  Kazuo had been looking forward to it since Christmas – it does serve to mitigate against the post-Christmas blues, having a birthday so soon after.  But I am wondering now if it just prolongs the gifts-and-celebrations high and makes the crashing back to earth ever so much more difficult – for parents and child.  I will admit that my expectations were high…and my sense of disappointment when I realised that perhaps the social situation I have created for my little one has stretched him a bit beyond his limits (despite my best laid plans) is very keen.  So I agonised a little about whether my desire to make things fun and sociable for him were actually making it hard for him to be his best person.  I should have read this good advice first and chilled out a little:

  • Be forgiving if she forgets her party manners at times, but do remind her to thank the guests as they leave and hand each child a party favor.
  • Set expectations early and increase those expectations each year. Each year your child will be able to handle a little bit more responsibility during the party, building good social skills along the way.
  • For many children, the day of their birthday party is one of the happiest days of the year. They have been anticipating the party for weeks, and as excitement builds, the chance of a meltdown increases. If this happens to your child during the party, be kind! Children can be overwhelmed at birthday parties, and your job is to help your child calm down and get back to the fun.
  • Don’t show anger or say anything to ruin their happy day.

(Birthday in a Box)

Anyway, to keep things ticking along and not allow for too much wild running about the house time (oh, for a summer birthday when we could run around the garden with impunity!), I packed in the crafty activity:

Crafty Activity

We made foam rockets, sandpaper t-shirts with rockets and aliens on them and alien/space superhero masks which took a fair bit of parental involvement, but seemed to work out pretty well.

Then it was nibble time at the space food station (apologies for the low-light snaps on the iPhone, couldn’t find the camera on the day):

Food station

A quick game of pass-the-parcel and then it was moon-landing-cake time:

Moon Landing Cake

We had four guests from preschool and two ‘home’ friends – it was a lovely mix and Kaz had a wonderful afternoon.  Thanks to everyone for coming and celebrating our boy with us, he is lucky to have such good friends, and so are we!

Last night was ACTUAL birthday dinner – which followed a rather happy birthday at preschool.  Family gifts were unveiled which were very gratefully received, and our very tiredy boy went off to sleep like a light.  The thing about birthdays that I rather like more than the intense anticipation of Christmas (which the doctor pointed out last night) is that it is about the achievement of a little more maturity and development – a milestone for all of us – and for the wee guy, the realisation that a lot of his new peers are only just turning three now, and need his help to become ‘big’, a new level of self-awareness for him that I hope will foster a sense of empathy as he makes his way through life.

Happiness for four!

Start as You Mean to Continue

This may seem like a morbid start to the year, but we took the wee one to St Andrews Cathedral a couple of days ago to let off some steam (read: pursue the enemy alien baddies and use the force to rescue the goodies) and this message captivated me entirely. The topic of mortality is a bit of a raw issue in our house, the wee one is still trying to get his head around it after a string of bereavements (of the human and animal variety) in the past year and no-one really wants to contemplate their not-being-ness for too long now do they?  But by far the most memorable start to a lecture series ever was the inestimable Roger Robinson quoting from the funeral sentences in the Book of Common Prayer - ‘In the midst of life we are in death…‘ and this thought has stayed with me for most of my adult life.  Life is joyous and fabulous in so many ways…yet shadowed always by the hint of our tenous grip on existence. The love I am so grateful to share now will sustain me through the pain of life – and the dizzying heights of happiness that life brings will always be a little shot through with the fragility of mortality.

Intimations of mortality at the start of a new year

With this music faintly ringing in my ear, I resolve to grasp life firmly this year, and to try to do the following…

  • Walk up this hill at least once a month (once a week would be good, but wholly unrealistic, given our schedule and the weather!):

Half way up

  • Organise the little bits of chaos around the house – in particular, find the books a new home, like this beauty maybe:

Books need a new home

  • Whip myself back into shape, perhaps with the help of a weekly class in the village, which is long overdue:

Pilates

  • Figure out whether or not it is time for the wee guy to begin school here:

Ceres Primary School

  • Take ourselves off for at least a week in the sun – hopefully somewhere like this:

Cote d'Azur cottage

  • Treat myself to a night at the ballet:

Highland fling

  • Spend more time outdoors with these guys:

Sunny New Year's Day on top of the hill

  • Find a place and time to give a little back in gratitude for all that is good in our lives.

Of course, life may get in the way of all these intentions…but it is wonderfully freeing to be poised on the brink of a new year, ready to blow the cobwebs of the old year out of your head and attempt to live a little more purposefully through the coming months.  Happy New Year everyone!

Noël

Christmas was finally all about the boy in our house this year.  He LOVED the build up.  We had many chats about the bearded fellow I discussed in my last post, and whilst we did not entirely give in, there came a moment when he asked ‘Mama, can we just pretend that Santa will come to our house?’ Such a rational compromise from a little boy who was enthralled by the enchantments and enticements fed to him at preschool and wanted to find a way to engage that would suit his reluctant parents.  So, we acquiesed, and filled in a Portable North Pole dossier with him so that ‘Santa’ would send him a (very convincing indeed) video message that gave us all a giggle.  We also watched Raymond Briggs’ Father Christmas just about every day over the festive period.  So whilst we did not really ‘do Santa’ – the wee one knew we bought the presents and was pretty much part of the charade – we had a bit of fun with it all the same.

Other delights that gave the wee one something to talk about included a preschool visit to the Snow White Panto at the Byre Theatre - here we are en route, I took the day off to be a mother helper, and it was just as well – a slick production, but altogether a little too loud and scarey for many of the wee ones and K was happy to escape home with Mama afterwards.

Off to the panto with the tiny ones

We also went to the Craigtoun Park Christmas Fair and after getting a bit of a disappointing gift from Santa (mainly because it was not the same as the gift his little pal got before him – gone are the days of one present for boys and one for girls!), the wee guy elected to be painted up as the jolly fellow himself, there was no escape for us!

Mr Claus

The house is decorated and it is just us for the festive season, peace and goodwill to you all!

Welcome again

Magic Enough

The happiest Christmas ever! We have had so much delight getting ready for the magic of the festive season this year.  When we put up the tree, the little guy danced around the room in between hanging decorations singing ‘this is going to be the happiest Christmas ever!’  He loves every little tiny detail and has been as full of wonder at the lights in the trees on the drive home as at the treats discovered in the advent calendar bags each evening.  The moment we turned on the tree lights, he darted across to the main light switch, turned them off and sat in the middle of the rug with a beatific smile on his face, letting out a rapturous sigh.

My heart lifts with the magic of a story that has been told so often that it permeates the fabric of our culture and gives us a wealth references to share with one another.  We love a good story at our house and as an erstwhile teacher of literature and drama, it thrills my heart that the wee one needs little encouragement to read a story, begs often for us to tell him the stories of our lives and has recently been making up a raft of his own rather marvellous narratives.

I also love the magic of our reality – the mysteries of the world around us are revealing themselves to scientists daily, in ways that are sometimes more surprising and revealing yet more mysteries than we could have imagined. The world is an amazing place and it is our firm conviction that there is plenty of mystery and magic in the real world without needing to adhere to myths or tales as anything other than good narrative to illustrate rather than explain the world.

This is why Santa, that very jolly fellow who zooms about the skies with his magic reindeer, and spies on the children at preschool through the CCTV cameras, and sends emmisaries to the Christmas Fair to hand out pre-emptive gifts on his behalf, and is apparently able to get into our house even without a chimney as they have the technology these days, will not be coming to our house this year…or any other year.  We are those parents.

So, we were prepared to apologise if our little one broke the spell at preschool with his assertions that ‘Santa is not real’, but our feeling is there is enough magic in the world for our boy to retain his sense of wonder AND not lose faith in our explanations of how-the-world-is, based on a sense of disenchantment (fleeting perhaps) when it transpired that we had sold him a story as truth.

However, it seems this year that the apologies are not required – yet anyway.  He has been far more willing to accept the stories about Santa from outwith the home than our assertions that Santa is not real.  We have put Santa in the same camp as monsters, fairies, ghosts, baby Jesus, angels, ogres et al – all part of the mythical story repertoire that we cherish.  But I think for now this has just served to further confuse him and remind me that his little world is still expanding daily and he is so willing to believe anything – another compelling reason to maintain an honest line with him.

My only moment of pause was when he assured me that he would be very sad if Santa did not come to our house on Christmas.  Lots of things make our children sad.  We cannot shield them from all disappointment, we need to help them learn adult tools for absorping the disappointment and finding a happy equilibrium in spite of the reality check.  We will hug him if he is sad, remind him of how wonderfully fortunate he is in our lovely – real – magical world and help him to gain perspective while hopefully continuing to foster his delightful sense of wonder.

Lake Sojourn

At last our longed for Autumn holiday in the Lake District was upon us.  I took a couple of days off work beforehand to let the little one have some at-home time as well as he seems to be more of a home body every day – and it seems hard on him to have five long days away from home each week.  We set off onthe Friday for three nights in a delightful cottage in Newlands Valley.  Our lovely friends Tomandclaireandgrace (their name has extended a little since last summer) met us there and we all had a lovely relaxing weekend in each other’s company.

Moody mountain moments

We had a magical walk in the woods at Whinlatter Forest.

Osprey land

Complete with a wise man of the woods…

Wise old man of the forest

…some forestcraft shelters…

Wilderness skills

…woodland luminosity…

Magical moments in the forest

…magical doors in the trees…

Hidden treasures in the trees

…places for balancing…

Playground

…and jumping.

Exploring the little houses

At Trotters World of Animals we got up close with some wonderful birds of prey…

Birds of prey demo

… and made friends with a macaw who was very chatty.

Hello Mr Macaw

On Derwentwater we met some geese…

Greylag geese on the shores of Derwent Water

…climbed some very big rocks…

Rock scrambling

…and thought a little of the romantics.

Wordsworthian moment on Derwent Water

‘Be thankful, thou; for, if unholy deeds
Ravage the world, tranquillity is here!’

William Wordsworth.

Autumnal Delights

What have we been up to since August?  Let me see…

  • The doctor went to Australia for a month – we missed him dreadfully, but were very glad of modern technology to keep track of him
  • I got a new job while he was away – which meant doing two jobs (sort of) for a few months
  • He returned to his first semester of teaching a new course  – which has been rather hectic
  • A close family member passed away the week the doctor was due to jet off to New Orleans, so we all packed up to fly to Dublin, only to have the wee one fall prey to the dreaded winter stomach virus – so I drove him home in a storm, but the doctor then ended up in A & E for the night after an allergic reaction, so that weekend felt a rather crazy ordeal
  • But – uh, no – I got the bug when the doctor was abroad and the little one and I have been lurching from one bug to another since, I am not sure we have had a decent nights sleep in over a month

It all sounds a bit grim…I would have to say that we have seen better times.  However, all around us the world has been changing colour and it has been rather glorious.  While our weeks have been a matter of just trying to stay on top of things, our weekends have involved some lovely adventures still.  So here are some recent pics of our out and abouts – and since we have vowed to lay low for the silly season this year, we might have more time for reflection soon.  How often do I say that?  Anyways, happy Autumn friends – hope you have had some lovely autumnal afternoons too!