A clash of cultures: Kid-friendly vs. Kid-centric

It’s November. Which means NaBloPoMo. Let’s see what happens when I force myself to blog every day for a month, shall we? 
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Oh dear. Not even 10 days in, and I’ve failed to post every day. And my excuse for missing yesterday isn’t even that great: we were at the pub.

We went out for dinner last night with some friends at their local, which is everything a good English pub should be: good food, friendly staff, and a steady stream of regulars of every age.

This is one of the things I really like about the UK. And Europe in general, really. Kids are just accepted as part of life. I remember Maggie at Mighty Girl saying something similar about Barcelona earlier this year.

It’s so different from the ‘Child Friendliness’ cues I remember from Vancouver. Everywhere I’ve been with Isaac in North America, there has been a very overt display of whether a place is “For People With Children Along” or “Totally Unsuitable for Children Period.” The former will always have high chairs, kids’ menus, change tables. If it doesn’t have any of those things, it’s a pretty big signal that children are not welcome. Case in point: I caught wind of a big brouhaha in Vancouver over the Earls High Chair Controversy. My lands, the drama.

Conversely, here, there are certainly a large number of places who offer all the kid-friendly accouterments you could ever wish for, and just as many that don’t, that are equally welcoming to kids. We’ve been to places with absolutely zero indications of kid-friendliness that have been super excellent in terms of interacting with Isaac and serving up a kid-sized meal, and others that have some high-chairs and things, but were clearly waiting for us to finish up quickly and go.

Some pubs and restaurants are more welcoming to families than others. Some say no kids after 6pm, some 9pm, some don’t care. Still others leave it up to your discretion. Nobody’s going to complain about a family with some kids at 6pm on a quiet Tuesday evening, but might give you the stink-eye if you want to bring your noisy brood in at 8pm on a Friday.

I am still often in awe, though, of all the places we see kids and it’s just no big thang.

Last year, Neil and I headed out to one of the Ashmolean’s Live Friday Events. It was interesting, to say the least, to contrast with my experience of similar events or activities in Vancouver

I find things in Vancouver to be very segmented by clique. Activities are attended almost solely by either older, upper-crust patrons of the arts, 20- and 30-somethings without kids (whether they’ve left them at home that night, or don’t have any at all), or families. Very few things cater to, or are attended by, all three, all at once.

At the Ashmolean, in addition to the roving hordes of students (this is a university town after all), I witnessed a number of grey-hairs rocking out to the jump-jazz-calypso band, loads of other adults from 18-80, a number of kids in the 5-15 category, plenty of babes in slings, and at least one toddler dashing about. And everyone was having a fine time.

Alcohol was sold on-premise throughout the event, kids were kept mostly under control by their parents. Anything incredibly precious was behind barriers or glass, but there were plenty of sharp, breakable and otherwise potentially ‘unsafe’ or ‘delicate’ things about that weren’t smashed to smithereens. And as far as I know, nobody or nothing exploded.

It was just, people. All out for an evening’s entertainment.

So, back to last night. The pub was fairly quiet. Isaac was entertained by a combination of the cars and crayons we brought, the staff wandering around with him and plying him with chocolates, and some other girls of about 6 or 7 who thought he was cute and hilarious to parade around.

And the fact that none of that was out of the ordinary is still extraordinary to me.

Thing I like: Merrell Boots

It’s November. Which means NaBloPoMo. Let’s see what happens when I force myself to blog every day for a month, shall we? 
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Since going back to work full-time in April, I’ve also been a full-time bicycle commuter. And Oxford is fantastic for cycling. In fact, because of the way the roads and cycle paths connect between my house and work, it’s actually shorter and faster for me to bike than drive.

And with such a short trip (my ride is about 2.5k), there’s not much need (unless the weather is really awful) for me to wear anything other than regular clothes. I feel very Copenhagenesque, pretty much every day, as I sit up tall and ride at a modest-but-still-leisurely pace.

It’s really a joy to jump on my bike, cruise through town, and then just lock it and walk up to my desk, without a complicated shower/changing/primping routine in-between.

Still, not all clothes are created equal when it comes to bicycle commuting.

For instance, I’m still on the hunt for great trousers, after my favourite jeans wore through in the crotch from too much friction with my saddle. Sadface.

boot

But while I haven’t found a good answer for trousers (lots of great guy bike jeans, not so much ladies), when it comes to footwear, or at least boots, Merrell has filled a gap nicely. I’ve been looking for a pair of chocolate brown boots for a while, and the Evera Amp boot is a gorgeous specimen that’s also bike-friendly! Win!

What I really like is that, unlike so much bike-specific gear, the first impression it gives is fashion over function. But it still packs in plenty of functional aspects. I really notice a difference between these boots and another similar pair I have that aren’t made for cycling: the rigid footbed and increased tread do make a big difference in terms of stability and efficiency.

Plus, they’re comfortable for walking afterward, which is a huge plus.

I really hope this is a new trend in nice ladies’ bike-friendly fashion. Now someone please get on the jean thing. And a helmet that doesn’t give me hat-head.

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Note, I bought these boots because I like them. And I’m sharing them here because you might like them too. This was wholly unsolicited, and uncompensated.

How much does brand affinity matter?

It’s November. Which means NaBloPoMo. Let’s see what happens when I force myself to blog every day for a month, shall we? 
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I saw a post the other day about a bad airline experience, and how it tied into a bad email experience. The point the author was making: don’t send promotional emails to someone you’ve just made very unhappy – hit pause on their marketing preferences for a little while. This is very possible with modern marketing technology, so why isn’t it being done?

Not long after that, I came across the new Virgin America safety video:

 

And was surprised by my own reaction. I my chest swelled and my eyes teared up a bit. I thought about flying Virgin, and what that means to me. 

We flew Virgin when relocating to the UK. Their brand is tied up with a whole slew of emotions, and we had an amazingly positive experience at a very stressful time, from the check-in person who didn’t charge us for extra baggage to the amazing in-flight staff who were awesome to us and Isaac.

Even hearing tales of woe from friends who’ve had bad experiences on Virgin hasn’t changed that.

Conversely, I have had horrible experiences with United, and mediocre experiences with everyone else.

But what, exactly, does that change? I still book air travel based on:

  1. Price
  2. Points (though I don’t fly enough these days for a loyalty program to sway me much)
  3. (the aforementioned things being equal – which they never are) Experience.

The author of the first article I linked to also doesn’t seem to be likely to change her behaviour based on their shoddy email. She might think less of the airline, but she’ll still give them her business.

I can’t blame her – I do the same.

So why, then, does she think they should change their email practice?

Preparation, Inspiration

It’s November. Which means NaBloPoMo. Let’s see what happens when I force myself to blog every day for a month, shall we? 
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My grandfather’s workshop has always been fascinating. He was trained as a tool and die maker before immigrating to Canada, and spent the majority of his years as a machinist. He was also a ‘tween’ in the Netherlands during the second world war, when rations and supplies were scarce. Everything was saved, mended, repurposed or refashioned.

He’s the original lifehacker. A maker, before makers were cool. Throughout my childhood, he was constantly creating little tweaks and gadgets to improve some aspect of their house or garden. Little things, like spring-loaded door stops, or squirrel-proof bird feeders. Or that time he rigged up a contraption to bypass the safety latch on an electric hedge trimmer and put it on a pole to trim a tall tree. He always had the perfect bit of something he’d saved that he could hack into something else. It seemed like magic.

In contrast, there is  a large part of me that likes to live lightly. Nothing like schlepping all your worldly goods 1/3 of the way around the world, and then still having to pack/move/unpack them annually because you can’t get a lease longer than a year, to make you want to own much fewer things. I throw things out fairly indiscriminately. This is how I end up needing to do things like take seventeen trips to the photo place for tiny pictures.

Somewhat related, I have always been bewildered by people I call ‘crafty.’ Those who always seem to show up with a beautifully wrapped gift, or send the perfect (handmade, natch) card, or throw together a last-minute holiday-appropriate decoration or embellishment. How do they do it? Pinterest has not helped my lack of self-confidence in this area.

Then one week, I managed to actually  send a card in a timely fashion, wrap a lovely birthday gift, and bring an appropriate hostess gift to a party. 

Those things are rare enough in and of themselves. For all three to happen in a single week, in my world, is basically unheard of. I felt, dare I say, prepared, instead of frazzled. Like I was, for a short time, the person I aspire to be. How on earth did I do it? A happy coincidence of having the right things around.

And somewhere in all that, I remembed my grandfather’s workshop, and realized, having extra stuff around, sometimes, can be useful. These confusing ‘crafty people’ have a stash of things they can pull out whenever an occasion comes up and inspiration strikes. Like my grandfather’s workshop, ready for any small hack thanks to his habit of stashing any bits that might be mechanically useful, other people’s craft cupboards are apparently full of things just waiting for an opportunity to be used. They aren’t running to the craft store for a set of cutout letters, or wasahi tape, every time an occasion comes up. 

I don’t know why this never occurred to me before. Our kitchen pantry basically operates like that. We can always throw together a pretty decent meal, or afternoon tea, or drinks and snacks, out of whatever’s around. 

So now I’ve started making sure we have a few other things around to contribute to what I call (for lack of a better term) the ‘hospitality pantry.’ Note and occasion cards. Pretty wrapping papers. Small gifts and decorations. I’m not totally there yet (exhibit: Halloween 2013 – we had zero decorations. Not even a pumpkin.) but it’s coming.

More often than not now, a social occasion is cause for a tiny bit of self-congratulation that I’m equipped to handle it graciously, instead of turning myself into a crazy person or being embarrassed that I’m the one showing up to a kid’s birthday party with a gift awkwardly wedged into a leftover wine bag that someone else gifted to us (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

So now, I try to cull my possessions a little  more carefully. I still aim to reduce the amount of useless stuff around, but maybe not be quite so quick to have nothing extraneous about. I’m far from a hoarder of materials and supplies, but I do now keep some extra ‘crafty bits’ around on purpose.

Are there any occasions or situations that you’re always ready for? What’s in your stash?

Care & Feeding

It’s November. Which means NaBloPoMo. Let’s see what happens when I force myself to blog every day for a month, shall we? 
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Now that I’ve been back at work full time for about six months (time flies!), we’re really feeling the pressure at home when it comes to managing the rest of life.

Weekends end up jam packed with cleaning, errands, laundry and prepping/batch cooking so meals never take more than 30 minutes to get on the table during the week. It makes the weekday grind really feel like a grind.

Also, feeling like we hardly have any time to go out and do things or see people outside taking care of our basic family needs (because we’re scrambling to play catch-up every weekend) is really isolating. Which is funny to me, because I thought getting back into the working world would be exactly the opposite. Turns out, not so much.

So, it’s time to hire some help. And it was really hard to figure out exactly what – but I seem to have it narrowed down to two options.

Option 1: Mother’s Helper

Putting aside the irritatingly gendered job name (that’s what it’s advertised as here), this would be someone who could come in a few afternoons a week. The function isn’t primarily cleaning, or childcare, instead it’s a role for picking up whatever needs doing at that time – basically all the things you haven’t gotten around to – as well as being able to make or start some meals, and do babysitting, picking kids up from nursery or school, etc.

Option 2: Au Pair

The house we’re in right now has a bunch of space we’re not really using; a full guest room with ensuite, plus a decently-sized office. We certainly have the space to put an Au Pair, if we wanted to have one, and still have room for the very occasional guests we get. And after learning a bit more about what they do, it seems like we could expect the same light housework, laundry, cooking, childcare as with a Mother’s Helper, but for a lot more hours, plus babysitting a couple evenings a week (which we’ve really been missing).

What would you do?

So here, gentle reader, is where I ask if you’ve used either a Mother’s Helper or an Au Pair before, and what your thoughts are? The costs, for us, would be about even.

My biggest hesitations are that for the Mother’s Helper, I’m not sure much having someone only on certain days would work with our chaotic lives. But with the Au Pair, I don’t know how much I want another person living in the house (I feel like it’d be 80% fun and lovely, 20% stressful – would that be worth it?).

Any experiences to share?

Swanning About

It’s the first of November. Which means NaBloPoMo. Let’s see what happens when I force myself to blog every day for a month, shall we? 
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So here’s a thing I don’t think I would’ve learned had I not moved to the UK:

Swans are AWFUL. 

Not having any practical experience with swans, all I knew was that they’re fair-sized water birds. Generally associated with ideas of beauty and grace and romance. And ballet.

Clearly the people who think these things have zero experience with actual swans.

Swans, at least, the ones I encounter (Mute Swans around here), are MEAN.

Somewhere in the evolutionary process, they lost the ‘flight’ part of the ‘fight or…’ response. Swans are like that drunk guy in the bar at the end of the night who stands in your way because he really wants you to challenge him to a fight. And then, since he also has no sense of self-preservation, will come at you with zero fear and swinging with everything he’s got.

swan

Oh god. RUN!

 

And they are HUGE.

Not Ostrich Huge, but if my 90lb dog were to get into a tussle with one, I’m not sure who would win.

One morning a pair of swans with three cygnets (still fluffy grey, but already the size of geese) were blocking the bike path. There were five of us, fully-grown adults and bicycles, standing there wondering what on earth to do, because we were all too afraid to challenge them to move.

So it could be understandable that I now think of the Ugly Duckling fairy tale an entirely different way…

“…and then the Ugly Duckling grew up and turned into a STUPID, TERRIFYING ASSHOLE which is WAY worse than being ugly, so be careful what you ask for.”

Still a good lesson all around, I’d say.