Tuesday, July 15, 2014

[jet set] Packing for the United Kingdom, a few thoughts

Our family will be enjoying a rare (for us) treat this summer: an actual get-out-of-town vacation!  Tickets have been purchased, hotels and B&Bs booked, car rental reserved…  There is no backing out now!  As we are traveling with a three year-old, we will not be sticking to a strict schedule.  We have a list of sights we’d like to see, but are going to play it by ear when we arrive.

With most of our flexible agenda decided, my thoughts turn to other preparations—specifically packing!

Four people, fourteen days, four different overnight locations.  We’d like to travel as light as we can.  Ideally, each person should have no more than one bag.  Preferably, that bag should be carry-on sized.  I have yet to inventory our luggage, though, so we may have to settle on whatever sized bag we have at our disposal.

Most of our stay will be in Bed & Breakfast establishments, so in room laundry is limited to washing a few items in our ensuite sink.  I certainly do not want to spend any of my time off at a British laundromat, so it’ll be necessary to pack a variety of clothing.  Thankfully, most of our trip will be spent enjoying museums, so no need for specialized garments (beach clothing, ski attire, et cetera).

The last out-of-country trip that I took, I decided to try the valet packing technique/bundle wrapping.  I used tissue paper and folded the clothing into the requisite bundles.  It worked beautifully in keeping my clothing mostly wrinkle-free.  But this time around, I want to give the rolling method a go so as to not feel pressured to completely unpack at every destination.  (Did I mention that there are four?)

Since I’ll be folding and rolling my clothes, wrinkle-free fabrics seem the best bet.  Fortunately, there are a lot of beautiful, classic knit and jersey items that are also mostly wrinkle-free.  I decided against wearing vintage for this trip because we may have to check a bag and lo! would I be upset if I lost any of my favorite pieces.  Anyway—on to the list!

I find that for a trip like ours, two pairs of shoes are needed.  No more than three should be taken.  I’d like a pair of shoes well suited to hours of walking.  This pair should also be able to handle cobblestones and rougher terrain without compromising my comfort.  I used to own such a pair—purchased specifically for our trip to Ireland back in 2010, but since we moved into our haus I haven’t seen them.  If we cannot find that pair, I may be stuck with bringing my well-loved Birkis.

The second pair will be my Dansko sandals.  I’ve been able to wear these beauties all day at Disneyland with 100% comfort.  I know that they’ll be great for long walks, but probably not too grand on cobblestone.  However, they dress up nicely and we do have one night at the theatre already planned for my daughter and I.

IF I bring a third pair, I’m thinking of packing my running shoes.  In the off chance that I am able to go for a jog, I’d like to be prepared.  Sure, I could also use them for some touristy errands, but we’re going to the UK.  To many Brits, the sneakers with everyday clothes is an immediate call-out for the touristy American—a designation I’d like to avoid when simply glanced.

Now that shoes are settled, it’s time to think on the clothes.  I like to break it down thusly—first choose a handful of classic neutrals that layer and pair well.  A classic tee, black trouser, neutral tank, cardigan… 

Next, select some separates to add color and interest.  Again, I go for classics over trends, since I tend to dress more retro-inspired when I’m not wearing actual vintage.  Finally, choose a handful of accessories to finish the look.  Scarves will be my go-to here.

Outer wear is easy in my case as I still have the raincoat I purchased in Ireland.  It’s a beautiful gray, looks great, fits beautifully.  I did also recently score a red London Fog ladies coat that I will likely lend to my daughter.  Either option works great and will be worn on the plane so as to be immediately available upon landing, should we need it, so it will not take up valuable space in the suitcase.

Here is what I have on-hand, besides the items listed above, that I’m considering:
  • White with red polka dots blouse
  • Gray, plain cardigan
  • Gray, denim, sailor-style pants
  • 2 black, convertible dresses.  One is from a company that no longer exists, sadly.  The other is from Hayley Starr.  Both also double as skirts.
  • Black, lacey, long sleeve top
  • Two camisoles: one white, one black
  • A variety of scarves
  • Classic sliver Tiffany necklace
  • Classic silver Tiffany charm bracelet.
Here is what I’d like to round out my list:
  • A colorful dress—ideally, a wrap dress or other classic silhouette
  • One more pair of pants—ideally in a neutral color, perhaps capri-length
  • A classic long sleeve white tee
  • One or two more shirts—ideally a boat neck with stripes, or a colorful classic blouse
So far, I think I’m on the right track.  If done right, I’ll have multiple outfit combinations to wear that will easily fit into a carry-on sized suitcase.

Do you strategize your packing?

Monday, July 7, 2014

[peaceful parenting] A Critical Look at Five Reasons

I tend to avoid HuffPo most days as it really is just another fluff site thinly disguising itself as news.  But several FB friends were sharing a particular article on parenting fails, so I clicked.  And I soon regretted it.  

The article is titled 5 Reasons Modern-Day Parenting Is in Crisis, According to a British Nanny.  It might as well have been titled 5 Reasons to Be a D*ck to Children, According to a Judgmental Child-minder.  I’ll explain.

The author’s first reason today’s parents are lousy: some of us actually value our children’s preferences.  She writes:

“I have what I think of as "the sippy cup test," wherein I will observe a parent getting her toddler a cup of milk in the morning. If the child says, "I want the pink sippy cup, not the blue!" yet the mum has already poured the milk into the blue sippy cup, I watch carefully to see how the parent reacts. More often than not, the mum's face whitens and she rushes to get the preferred sippy cup before the child has a tantrum. Fail! What are you afraid of, mum? Who is in charge here? Let her have a tantrum, and remove yourself so you don't have to hear it. But for goodness' sake, don't make extra work for yourself just to please her -- and even more importantly, think about the lesson it teaches if you give her what she wants because she's thrown a fit.”  (emphasis mine)

She is trying to make the point that modern parents are afraid of upsetting their kids, she instead comes off sounding like an insensitive shrew.  I’m not afraid of extra work, nor is there any doubt who is the parent and who the child in my relationship with my son.  But here’s the deal, if I always opt to go the easy route to avoid extra work, I’m showing my son that his opinions, his preferences, are unimportant.  

In fact, we had a similar struggle this morning.  Temperatures are warming up in my town.  Our house lacks air conditioning, our television puts of a LOT of heat.  Declan woke and immediately wanted to play on the Xbox.  I didn’t want to deal with the extra heat.  Instead of just telling him to suck it up, and letting him tantrum, we talked.  I made sure that his preferences were acknowledged.  I explained my position, he his.  And we compromised.  We kept the TV off during the hottest part of the day, turned it on when it cooled off.  Sure, he got upset a few times.  But we’re establishing a supportive relationship—not one where I rule and he obeys, period.  

Ironically, after alluding that modern children are somehow incapability of compromise, the author has this to say in Reason #2:

“Children are capable of much more than parents typically expect from them, whether it's in the form of proper manners, respect for elders, chores, generosity or self-control. You don't think a child can sit through dinner at a restaurant? Rubbish. You don't think a child can clear the table without being asked? Rubbish again! The only reason they don't behave is because you haven't shown them how and you haven't expected it! It's that simple. Raise the bar and your child shall rise to the occasion.”

Wait… so my kid is somehow incapable of being reasoned with in Reason #1, but now they’re capable of it in Reason #2?  Now, I agree that kids are capable of quite a lot.  But I also recognize that my three year old has a less developed brain than I do.  (Quiet, Peanut Gallery!)  I do us both a disservice when I expect him to perform cognitively as well as I do.  

Additionally, there is the subtext to both of these Reasons that really bothers me: that the relationship between parent and child is a relationship where one party is in charge, and the other party is subservient.  Frankly, that is not the sort of relationship that I want from my kids.  I don’t want my children to blindly “obey” me, or anyone.  I want my children to listen, to think, to decide, and then act.  Not to just “do” without consideration beyond, “well, **authority figure** told me to do so.”  I recognize that I may be alone on this one, but I want our relationship to be one of mutual love and support.  Not blind adherence to a pecking order.

In Reason #3, the author actually makes some points that I agree with.  She claims that most folks are too afraid of backlash to assist in situations where a child has behaved in an inappropriate manner.  That today’s parents are so convinced that their kids are perfect that any stranger stepping in is unwelcome.  While it may be true that folks no longer swat at stranger’s kids, I would not go so far as to claim that the problem is mom and dad's deluded idea of the brilliance of their kids.  Rather, I think it's the fear of lawsuit for hitting a stranger's children.  Frankly, I'm glad of that.  Yes, I’ve been on the receiving end of glares from strangers, and I’ve also had folks kindly smile and give me a few reassuring words.  That’s a much better thing in my mind than the “good old days” when the neighbor felt it their duty to punish, and perhaps even spank my kids.

Do take this away from her Reason #3, though: “If a child is having a tantrum… observers should … be saying, "Hey, good work -- I know setting limits is hard.”  I agree.

Ready for Reason #4?  This one sounds good on the surface, were it not for the notion that again, children are not allowed to have a preference that is given value.  Here the author chides modern parents for using technology to soothe their kids.  Well, that advice is bang-on-trend with her established pattern of being a d*ck to kids.  Instead of acknowledging my child’s desire to entertain himself with a tablet, I’m again supposed to let him suck it up and get used to it.  She writes:

“Children must still learn patience. They must still learn to entertain themselves. They must still learn that not all food comes out steaming hot and ready in three minutes or less, and ideally they will also learn to help prepare it. Babies must learn to self-soothe instead of sitting in a vibrating chair each time they're fussy. Toddlers need to pick themselves up when they fall down instead of just raising their arms to mum and dad.“

Ugh.  She lost me at “self-soothe.”  Sounds way too much like the Cry It Out folks to my liking.  Need I point out some of the problems with Cry It Out?  Here’s a quote from an article from Psychology Today about it:

“With neuroscience, we can confirm what our ancestors took for granted---that letting babies get distressed is a practice that can damage children and their relational capacities in many ways for the long term. We know now that leaving babies to cry is a good way to make a less intelligent, less healthy but more anxious, uncooperative and alienated person who can pass the same or worse traits on to the next generation.”

Okay, back to criticizing Reason #3: Time for a confession.  When I’ve been in a situation where I’ve had to endure a wait, I’ve found some pretty neat shortcuts for myself.  I’ve pulled out a book to distract myself.  I’ve caught up on emails on my phone.  I’ve journaled.  But according to the author, allowing my kid to do the same thing is somehow a disservice?  It really doesn’t make sense to me.

We finish with Reason #5, a brilliant culmination of the underlying hostility to kids presented in most of the other reasons: Parents put their children's needs ahead of their own. 

Surprise!  Yes, yes, I do.  If I wasn’t prepared to put someone’s needs before mine, I wouldn’t have become a parent.  Parenting is hard.  It is.  Really.  Really hard, sometimes.  But it is also a choice—and I completely, wholeheartedly respect anyone who says, “no thanks,” to the idea of parenthood.  It isn’t selfish to chose not to have kids.  But it is pretty selfish to chose to be a parent, but then chose to put yourself always first. 

To her credit, the author begins this reason thusly: “Naturally, parents are wired to take care of their children first, and this is a good thing for evolution! I am an advocate of adhering to a schedule that suits your child's needs, and of practices like feeding and clothing your children first.”  But then she loses me when she continues with: “But parents today have taken it too far, completely subsuming their own needs and mental health for the sake of their children.”

Yes, I have actually fetched my son’s water bottle when he was perfectly capable of doing it himself.  But I’ve also done the same for my spouse, and he for me.  Sometimes we do things out of love and because we want to show our love than for convenience or ease.  

Now, the author here suggests some decent advice: 

There is nothing wrong with not going to your child when she wants yet another glass of water at night. There's nothing wrong with that dad at the zoo saying, "Absolutely you can have something to drink, but you must wait until we pass the next drinking fountain." There is nothing wrong with using the word "No" on occasion, nothing wrong with asking your child to entertain herself for a few minutes because mummy would like to use the toilet in private or flick through a magazine for that matter.”

I agree.  But there is also nothing wrong when I get up from my comfortable seat to walk across the room to hand my son the water bottle that was slightly out of reach for my kid.  It helps to grow our supportive relationship, just as occasionally saying, “Yes, I’ll play as soon as I am finished,” helps to show that I value him, his preferences, but also my own.  It’s a subtle difference, but it’s there.

In short, the article isn’t terrible.  It isn’t.  Maybe I was overstating things in summarizing her article as 5 Ways to be a D*ck to Kids, but then you probably wouldn't have read this. ;)  The author's approach isn’t the way that I want to raise my kids, because I clearly value a supportive relationship over a domineering one.  There are moments in my parenting where my behavior will seemingly overlap the behavior of a parent who does value a “because I’m the mom, that’s why” relationship.  While the practice may look alike at times, the principles are different.  

How would I suggest that moms and dads improve their parenting?  Hmm, I don’t know that I could break it down into five bite-sized pieces of advice.  But some of what would say might look like this:

  1. Decide what sort of relationship you want with your kids.  
  2. Implement behaviors that support that relationship.
  3. Value principles over arbitrary rules.
  4. Be kind to one another.

Hey, look at that.  I guess I almost did break it down into five little nuggets!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

[what's cookin'] Frozen Spiked Lemonade

When the mercury rises here in Southern California, I like to relax on our back patio with a frosty beverage. As the temps got up to a sweltering 88 degrees Fahrenheit (no giggles from you, Arizona and Texas), I blended up a batch of yummy to cool off tonight. Want to try your own frozen Tom Collins?  Here you go:

Frozen Tom Collins/Spiked Lemonade

1/4C water
6oz quality gin 
2oz Cointreau (friends don't let friends drink triple sec)
3 lemons--peeled, halved, seeded
1/4 cup sugar
6C ice

If using a high powered blender, throw all the ingredients in and blend for a minute or so. Otherwise, add everything but the ice and blend until liquified. Add ice (in batches, if necessary) and blend. 

Pour and enjoy!

[mini-trad mysteries] Pantry, Service Porch; Can YOU help?

When it came time to buy our house, I had—like most shoppers—a very keen idea of exactly what I wanted.  

  • Three + bedrooms
  • One + bathrooms
  • Built before 1950
  • Ideally! built between 1890 and 1940
  • With as many original, historic details intact as possible

We found that house, too.  But it wasn’t meant to be.

Instead of my dream house, we found a home that I’ve fallen in love with despite its faults.  It has the curb appeal of a shipping container, but has some really cute little details throughout.  (Including original tile in the kitchen and the bath!)

We mopped AFTERWARDS, oops
But our strange little mini-trad also has some odd mysteries about it.  

In our kitchen is a pink and beige/off-white linoleum flooring that is not original to the house.  The house was built in 1948 and based on some snooping I did, I found evidence that the original flooring is still there under the new-ish linoleum.

In our service porch is a recessed space that we use (and the previous owners used) as a pantry.  In the floor of this pantry are two small holes up against the east wall.  Gutting from the north wall is a strip where there is no linoleum and no original flooring, but it doesn’t open up to the crawl space.  Obviously, something was there when both the original flooring and the “updated” linoleum was installed.  But what?  A washer?  A sink?  

Note the shelf supports
When looking into this recessed space, it quickly becomes clear that it was updated to be a pantry.  The shelving is unsophisticated.  Wooden boards supported by slats of wood nailed to the west and east walls.  I suspect that the “pantry” shelving was installed before the linoleum was installed, but I cannot be clear.  If it was, then whatever left its “footprint” in the floor would have likely co-existed with the shelves.  Therefore, said appliance would have to have been on the short side as the lowest shelf is only about a foot and half off the floor.  And that doesn’t make sense.

I have no clear indication when the linoleum was installed, and no clear idea when the “pantry” was converted.  But it all does leave me scratching my head, that’s for sure!

For a bit of extra mystery... Notice how in this last photo the linoleum was installed either after the water heater was replaced/added, or that the heater was lifted to install the flooring.  Weird.


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