Køb en regnemaskine

På min søns skole (6. klasse) har de fået besked på at købe en regnemaskine, en ordbog (engelsk-engelsk) og et kompas. Jeg har protesteret og sagt, at det er penge lige ud af vinduet, fordi min søn og majoriteten af hans klassekammerater allerede har alle disse ting i deres smartphones og/eller på deres laptops.

Meeen, børnene må jo ikke bruge deres smartphones i skolen, vel. Og laptops er endnu ikke et krav i timerne, selvom nogle af lærerne (uden tidligere at have nævnt det ved forældremøder eller i orienteringsskrivelser) er begyndt at bede børnene om at tage laptops med.

Mit argument for at nægte at foretage disse indkøb er, at det ville være passende, hvis børnene lærte, at deres telefoner kan bruges til andet end spil, tekstbeskeder og Facebook, men også har en masse fornuftige applikationer. Fx kan man have Lectio som en “app”, hvilket både Junior og jeg selv har. Det er vældig praktisk! Mange børn ved heller ikke, at en computer duer til andet end spil, Youtube, Facebook og så lektierne.

Det ville være dejligt, hvis der kunne foregå en integration mellem børnenes egen, skolens og forældrenes brug af digitale remedier. Nogle lærere trænger til en ordentlig brush-up, men det gør mange forældre (og dermed deres børn) så sandelig også.

Hvad synes du, skal jeg kravle ned fra min høje hest og gå hen i Bog & Idé og købe en regnemaskine (til)?

 

 

Share

Curling children and helicopter parents

I find myself caught up in a parent-spiral and I believe many of my thinking co-parents feel the same. Parents are expected to do ever more for their children – and these expectations do not only stem from the children themselves. The pressure is always on, from other parents, the media and society in general.

Although a rather spoiled and over-cared-for lonely child myself, I still took the bus/bike to school, walked/biked the long dark way to ballet training and violin practice, had a job from I was around 12 and did my homework on my own in my room.

My older son (22) was far more spoiled than I was, but somewhat less spoiled than his peers and than my younger son (10) is now (to older son’s constant chagrin). But my young son is far less spoilt than a number of his peers.

Spoiling children with love and attention is always good and never bad, but driving them everywhere when they could perfectly well walk, bicycle or use public transportation can’t possibly be good for anything? And giving them money every day to buy junkfood because they won’t eat a packed lunch, what good is that for a child? At the skatepark where young son goes to practice his skills on his scooter, there are many boys with very wealthy parents. Some of these ten-year-olds have more scooters and scooter-parts than they know what to do with, they always seem to have money to buy junk food and mountains of sweets and soft drinks and they clearly have no concept of money at all, because they all throw away the bottles. Young son has thus been given a way to replenish what in his view is a meagre allowance, so he brings big plastic bags in his backpack and collects the bottles the other boys throw away. At the top of the season, he can make around 100 DKR a week (10£). There’s little competition, because a number of the other boys’ parents have forbidden them to collect bottles… Also, when he buys scooter parts, he often gets free stickers. These stickers he sells to some of the others boys for ludicrous amounts of money. I allow it, because if these children have money to spare to buy overpriced stickers, then it’s their parents’ problem, not mine.

A personally felt consequence of helicopter parents and their over-protected children is that the new, huge skatepark in Fælledparken in Copenhagen is now being closed to children riding scooters. I feel really sorry for my son and all the other boys who have practiced their skills in the road and at smaller skateparks and who know how to fit into the hierarchy of the skating community.

The reason it has come to this is only partly that anybody can ride a scooter (not so with skateboards and rollerblades), even if they’re only 2-3 years old. The real reason is that parents will take their small and/or inexperienced children to the skatepark and allow them to meander about on their scooters in the midst of a large group of very skilled and much older skateboarders and rollerbladers. This results in a lot of near misses and also some accidents when an 80-kilo young semi-professional skater with 50 km/h is unable to avoid a 4-year-old tottering along the bottom of one of the deep bowls. When the skaters ask the accompanying parents to please keep their children away from the bowls and big ramps, the answer is always “MY child has as much right to be here as you have”. But that is wrong! They don’t! They don’t need ramps and bowls, they need a road or a terrace or a playground.

If it were only inexperienced boys coming on their own to the skatepark, the problem wouldn’t have reached the heights that is has now. Because most boys on their own would quickly learn to fit into the hierarchy of such a place. All groups have hierarchies, and the hierarchy in a skatepark is really simple. The best are at the top! And it doesn’t matter what they are best at  (as long as it has wheels) or how old they are. The less experienced will very quickly learn to keep well out of the way of the really good ones and will know quite precisely when they are ready to start trying a certain ramp, etc. But the helicopter parents ruin this with their My Child Comes First-attitude and also create big problems for these precious children by cutting them off from a valuable life experience.

Why are we letting ourselves spiral into this way of parenting? Who benefits from it? Our children get fat, helpless in a kitchen as well as in traffic and never gain an understanding of money.

Share

Waving the feminist flag again

Knowing how it upsets quite a few of my male readers I just can’t help myself. It’s Ada Lovelace day today, so we’re celebrating women who have excelled in technology.

I’ve chosen not to celebrate any woman in particular but instead to muse over why so many women still shy away from technology.

Ada Lovelace embraced technology although it hadn’t even been invented when she was around. She was guided by her curiosity combined with a brilliant brain and the financial circumstances to allow it.

I think that there’s a number of reasons why women don’t tend to embrace technology the way men do.

*disclaimer*
Please note that I use GENERALISATIONS in this post. I KNOW that not all men embrace technology or are good at it, I KNOW that there are women who excel in hardcore programming, etc. etc. But I’m sure you’ll agree that MORE women than men shy away from technology and that MORE men than women enjoy discussing Megabits of this and Gigabytes of that.
*end of disclaimer*

One of these reasons is the rather dull and unsurprising that technology has always been a male thing ever since the invention of the first technologies when women were still mostly “housewives” and dumbed down by themselves, their mothers, their fathers, their teachers, their brothers, their husbands and society in general. When computers started to be household items, everything to do with them was communicated in a special language, almost exclusive to people who worked with computers and completely unintelligible to anybody outside. But most men had to either pretend to understand or buy some copies of PC World and get an understanding quickly if they didn’t want to be out of the loop.

For women it was enough to learn the weird code language that was WordPerfect. Learning that was not at all considered a computer skill and nobody ever told any secretary that she could take her advanced WordPerfect coding skills and transfer them to other forms of computer coding – that the principles were the same even if the codes were different. So a large group of people – women – who could have become programmers and learned HTML as easy as one-two-three was completely lost. Because when Apple came with their What You See Is What You Get word processing technology and Microsoft came right at their heels and delivered Word to the world, everybody forgot all about WordPerfect and the skillset required to work it.

The language surrounding computers and other daily life technologies has certainly become a lot more accessible with the acceptance and knowledge that the target group has exploded and now includes everybody. But techno speak is still rife and you do need to learn some basics if you want to purchase some new technology and actually know what you’re buying. It’s also very helpful to know basic computer lingo when you make the inevitable call to the dreaded call centre for help. But I still think it would be really helpful if the ad said: This phone has 8GB memory. That equals x number of songs or x podcasts or x movie length films. I mean, who cares whether it’s 8 or 16GB? What you care about is whether there’s room for your entire Itunes library.

So when I talk to other women about technology and they get defensive about learning a bit of computer lingo I challenge them. Every time we enter a new chapter of our lives, we learn the language belonging to this particular subgroup without giving it much thought. You start studying law and after a year or so you’ve adopted a whole new set of words which you use effortlessly, inside and outside university. When you start cooking you learn the difference between tsp and tbsp and after the first mistake you know what “separate the eggs” means. When you first get pregnant (or your girl does) you learn a whole new set of words and phrases and suddenly know exactly what is considered a “normal” birth weight and what isn’t whereas previously you wouldn’t have batted an eyelid if somebody had told you that their baby weighed 12 kilos at birth.

I therefore challenge women to sit down and learn the basics about computers, so they can understand enough to make sane purchases, avoid viruses, guide their children and do what they want to do on their computers and smartphones. Whining that it’s “too complicated” just doesn’t cut any slack with me.

And now for the second reason why I think women are lagging behind when it comes to technology. I think they lack curiosity. Or rather, they lack the inclination to pursue their curiosity. And I think that’s with us from childhood. The further we go back in time the less women are likely to have been encouraged to act on their curiosity as children. And if you go to a toy store or a book store’s children’s department you’ll see how that’s still so very much the case. I should underline that this is a lot worse here in the UK than it is in Denmark. Can’t speak for the rest of the world. The wonderful Science Museum here in the UK has developed the most amazing series of exploratory toys and, happily, they’re on sale all over the world. However, in many a toy store or department store these toys are displayed in the boys’ section and not in the girls’. And where, unfortunately, it’s a general trend that children’s toys today don’t encourage them to think “out of the box” (Now, who is responsible for ruining that phrase? come here and I’ll spank you!) as much as previous generations’ toys, it’s much more true for girls’ toys. If you don’t believe me, go take a look. And don’t tell me that I can just avoid them. I only have boys. But then, I’m not talking about me. Keeping in mind the size of the toy departments and the amount of money spent on advertising toys every year, there CLEARLY are people who buy it, right!

I blame the mothers, particularly the ones who ought to know better, for giving in to this. Just heard this morning that some girls at son’s school were invited to a birthday party with a “Makeover” theme. That makes me want to be sick in somebody’s designer handbag.

In the teetering stack of books next to my bed is a book called Curious? by the psychologist Todd Kashdan (@toddkashdan on Twitter). I haven’t read it yet, but I bought it based on his op-eds in The Huffington Post and an article in the Guardian. I’m very curious myself and have often been told that I’m too curious for my own good. Imagine how pleased I was to read that curiosity is actually good for you and leads to much more “life satisfaction” if such a thing can be quantified. The curious are seldom bored, there’s always an avenue to explore. So what I know now, in the midst of the huge sea of things I don’t know, is that at least I’m not going to die of boredom.

***

So, what I meant to say on Ada Lovelace day, was this: Yes, ladies, there’s a historic precedence for women to not be curious and to be cr*p at technology. But that’s all it is. There are no excuses anymore. And if you can’t be bothered for yourself, then do it for your children. They deserve that you make the effort to understand the world they live in.

Share

Pink

I’ve been reading some Danish blogs’n’stuff lately since I was in Denmark and was alerted to a friend’s new blog and reminded of an old favourite. If you don’t read Danish, don’t click these two links.

This woman writes about pink technology and how it’s a total turnoff for most women. So true, so true. I cannot think of anything  more dreadful than a pink mobile phone with little sparkly thingies dangling from it.

She has also written an e-book about women and technology and divides us into Electronistas, Electroneutrals and Electronots. Well, as no surprise to any of my readers, I’m an Electronista. Trouble is, however, that I’m in reality far too old to be an Electronista, they are supposed to be younger than 35! Apparently, when you weren’t born into the tech age, you can’t be a true geek?

I’m the geekiest woman I know, maybe save one. In our home I do all things that have to do with technology, including opening envelopes from LoveFilm… I’m unafraid of technology but make no attempt to understand how it works and get annoyed when a tech product tries to tell me what to do and to prevent me from doing things it thinks I shouldn’t be doing (Windows) and when products are totally un-intuitive like my husband’s work Blackberry. When you’re used to an Iphone and prior to that to Nokia, the Blackberry seems devoid of logic. My Iphone is my best baby and I break out in cold sweat by the thought of losing it. It’s already a dinosaur, 1st generation, no 3G, 2 years old. But I adore it and use it for any thinkable and probably also some unthinkable purposes (no, you twat, not THAT unthinkable!!!).

My other best baby is my new Macbook Pro. I’m supposed to be able to make do with something much smaller and less powerful and that’s probably true. But my last MacBaby was exactly the same as this one and we had a loving relationship for 3+ years. So why change horses? (By the way, it still works and young son now uses it).

On my previous computer I had Microsoft Office installed. On this one I’ve avoided it so far, using the excellent Apple office package IWork and, mostly, Google Documents.

As you’ve guessed, because you’re so clever, I love all things Mac. I really can’t help it. When the Iphone first came out I tried to not like it, I tried to brush it off as yummy-tech for the Really Smart People. But I couldn’t. The thing about the Iphone has been that I have loved it more and more the longer I’ve owned it. There’s no grass that’s greener on the other side. Of course I’m now eying the IPad. I’m quite sure that I don’t want the first version. Mostly because I would like it as an E-Reader and it doesn’t have its bookstore ready for Europe yet. But also because I’d like to have Flash (rumour has it that the next version will sidestep Flash and use HTML 5. I honestly don’t know what that means, so I’ll just wait and see). And apparently you can’t use a USB stick on it but need Apple’s own special memory thingummies – I’m not sure I like that. But knowing Apple, all these things will be resolved in one of the next versions. That’s what happened with the Iphone; all the little things that irritated at first have been mended since. In the meantime, another rumour has it that Amazon will start giving away Kindles to all their Prime customers. Now THAT would be nice. Because I’m drowning in books and would very much like to stop buying pulped trees and start downloading.

Back to the pink. I so don’t understand why women will sink themselves and particularly their daughters into the Pink Pit. When I go shopping, both on the Interwebby (thanks Lulu) and IRL (in real life) I’m appalled at the amount of pink and glittery stuff offered to women and their daughters. It’s not that I can’t abide pink at all, I have a pink scarf somewhere and I used to have a pink t-shirt. In my bathroom I even have a line-up of pink coloured perfume bottles… What’s probably even more appalling is that it’s not just pink and glittery on the outside, very often it’s pink and glittery on the inside as well – understood in the sense that it speaks to women and girls as if they were morons and 2nd rate people.

As you may or may not have noticed, it was recently Valentine’s Day. Pink was everywhere. Where there was no pink was on Wired Magazine’s advice on how to win a geeky girl’s heart. Great advice, I would very much like to be at the receiving end of that kind of treatment and to some extent I am, thanks to my Dear Husband. But what so totally puzzles me is why this wouldn’t be a treat for any woman? Why does she have to be geeky (and why are there almost exclusively ads for men in Wired)?

In spite of the fact that I have two sons and a horde of nephews and only one niece, I’ve joined a network here in England called Pink Stinks. Go there and read about it. And, especially if you have daughters, do join!

Share

What's for tea?

my teapot
my teapot

The first many times I heard this, I quietly wondered to myself, What do they mean? Earl Grey or Darjeeling? Slowly it dawned on me that tea (look it up, it’s a hot drink FFS) in this country often (but not always!) means the evening meal. But no, no, not as in dinner. Dinner is something grown-ups have. No, tea is for children. Something they have in the late afternoon instead of dinner. And dad is not there and mum doesn’t eat tea, erh. (Apologies to the lovely househusbands I know, but you know you’re in the minority).

There, now it’s clear isn’t it? Tea is an afternoon meal for children. This is where some of the world’s least interesting and innovative cooking takes place, molding young peoples taste buds for the future. I cannot tell you how that upsets me! I’ve been in many British homes and seen tea being cooked. What I’ve seen is pasta, mash, peas, carrots (yes, boiled), sausages, fish fingers, chips, lasagne, beans on toast and eh, what else? Rice perhaps?

I’m not saying that my darling young son eats everything I set in front of him, far from it. And he’s had plain pasta with Parmesan and butter and some cucumber slices on the side more times than I care to remember. But, he sits with us at the table, he sees and smells what I cook and he’s made to taste everything we eat, if not every time then at least once in a while.

I realise that the evening meal causes problems for some families. Dad comes home late, children need to go to bed early. But this is not the case in all families and not in weekends? And in families with bigger children, surely they can have an afternoon snack, have homework done etc., so have evening meal when dad comes home? I fear that it’s not always the time that’s the issue, but parents who give in to tradition or give up the fight to make children eat a varied and interesting diet. I mean, nobody forces mums to put a packet of crisps in a child’s lunch pack, or what?

My oldest son was as picky as the next child when he was younger, but I pushed on and pressured him to try stuff and if he didn’t eat all the stuff I cooked, he certainly saw it and smelled it. Today I can only think of a handful of foodstuffs that he doesn’t eat and he eagerly tries new stuff all the time. I know a few young persons of his age (21) in this country. Suffice to say that they are not exactly courageous when it comes to trying out different food stuffs.

Also, how does this strange habit encourage “real” family life? When do these families sit down and talk about things? Obviously, most days it’s just the usual, “What did you do in school?” “Nothing much” conversation that goes on, but without dinner time I don’t know when the three of us could discuss important political issues and moral dilemmas? It’s fine that children talk with dad in the car on the way to football and with mum in the car to school, but it’s important for children to experience the dialogue between mum and dad. Also when it’s not rosy. This way they can also experience that one day there’s disagreement, but the next day mum and dad are in unison on something very important!

OK people, rant over. Voice your disagreement, but please argue your case. I’ll sit down with a cup of tea now, you know, the fluid hot stuff off of tea leaves?

Share

It Really Must Stop

If you look carefully you can see a little red person. Thats young son, perching on a branch.
If you look carefully you can see a little red person. That's young son, perched on a branch.

The Health and Safety regulations concerning children in this country are going totally overboard. In young son’s previous school, a Church of England state primary, we were already shocked by the number of rules they had, supposedly for the children’s safety. No playing football in breaks, during the heatwave they had to stay inside or sit down under the trees in all breaks, when we had the snow last year the school was closed for a whole week (explanation was that there was ice on the parking lot…) and teachers cannot hug or cuddle a child who’s unhappy or has been hurt.

Then there’s this horrible story about a dinner lady who got sacked for telling parents the truth about their daughter being bullied. And there’s this silly, silly new regulations at a playground: To accompany your child or grandchild or whatever into this playground you have to be vetted as a “playground worker”. If you’re not, you have to stay outside the fence.

And there’s this, where home baked cakes for school fetes have now been forbidden for hygiene reasons.

In yesterday’s Times, Jenni Russell tells another horror story and concludes that we, as parents in the UK, must really do something and protest!

Unfortunately, since I’ve moved my child away from the English school system to an international school, I don’t have much of a say in the matter. It’s my son’s good fortune that I’ve done so, the International school doesn’t appear to harbour these hysterical views on safety and believe that some good old-fashioned  common sense and respect for teachers, children and their parents goes a long way in keeping our beloved little ones safe.

However, it’s not all the government’s fault. We, as parents, must also look at our own views on safety. Where does good common sense end and over-cautiousness begin? Obviously, you can’t let your child play in the road, so that it will learn road safety. But you can let them fiddle with scissors and cut themselves a bit to understand why scissors are not toys? And where you can’t let a child stick its head into the fireplace, maybe you can let it light the candles on the table and burn their fingers a bit?

I remember an incident in my son’s preschool. He fell off the climbing structure and hit his head on one of the milk crates they used in their play. He of course hurt himself and had to have a few stitches at the doctor’s office. But a mum came up to me the next day and asked whether I didn’t think we had to pull the climbing structure or at least get rid of the milk crates, so a similar accident wouldn’t happen to another child. And she reminded me that a boy had fallen off the structure the previous year and broken his leg. She was rather surprised when I didn’t agree! It was the same mother who decided that her son could never again ride in a bus after she read about a tragic accident when a child was killed when a bus collided with a tractor. No number of statistics about children’s safety in cars versus buses could convince her to change her mind!

So now, let’s be sensible. If we let our children play and cycle and climb trees, there’s a good chance that they’ll scrape a knee, bump their heads or break an arm. But when I was young, we all had accidents like that! The only two real accidents, one fatal, I remember from school was a girl who was killed in traffic and another girl who got her finger crushed in a door, indirectly because of bullying. Neither of those episodes could have been prevented by all the crazy measures we take nowadays to protect our children!

Share

Being fat

picture from obesityfacts.co.uk
picture from obesityfacts.co.uk

India Knight’s column in today’s Sunday Times is about fat people. I commented positively on it on Twitter and got some response that amply shows how tender a spot overweight is.

India’s point is that overweight is something that can actually be reversed. She attacks the new “fat lobby” for wanting to completely disclaim any responsibility for their own situation. In California, a law prevents doctors from mentioning to their obese patients that losing weight could save their lives. These lobbyists want the same kind of law here. Furthermore, school teachers, nurses, dieticians etc., should not be allowed to mention it to the parents when their children are severely obese. They also lobby for the right not to be bullied or beaten up because they are fat. That’s obviously nonsense – bullying is everywhere and about everything and no law can prevent it. I can’t think of anybody who sanctions bullying – not India Knight either, although she writes that an extremely overweight person shouldn’t fall off his chair in wonderment when people stare at him. As to campaigning for the right not to be beaten – well, as far as I know, beating people up is illegal, no matter what the reason.

I’m not exactly a lightweight myself – a size 14 on a good day, 16 on a bad. I’ve been like this more or less since I stopped smoking 12 years ago. Before that I was thin as a reed. I have an end weight, not far from my present weight. I’m not ever going to weigh so much that I can’t buy my clothes in a “normal” clothes shop. And I don’t want to be so big that I become a burden to people around me and to society. Happily a new study has come out recently that claims that my kind of overweight is good. And I’m perfectly capable of curbing my eating for a period to shed a few pounds when I hit my weight ceiling. But it seems that I can’t be bothered to go the extra mile and lose the stone or two that would bring me down to a comfortable size 12. Point is, however, I know exactly what to do and don’t even need a book. For me it’s not about more veg, more fibre, less dangerous fats. It’s painfully simple. Eat less (& no wine). But unfortunately, it is just not that simple for the huge group of obese people who are a threat to themselves and to the health economy.

The number one problem with the whole discussion about obesity is namely, and India Knight fails to mention it, that obesity has become – like smoking – mainly a problem for the poor and uneducated. Whereas my overweight is the result of too great a love for cooking and good food (and I believe it’s the same for many roundish people of the upper- and aspiring classes) and therefore can be kept in check, their overweight is the result of a poor diet and total lack of understanding of the relationship between action and consequence in the food area. This kept well in check by the poor and uneducated’s preferred news sources and peddlers of confusion and fear, The Daily Mail, The Sun and Sky News.

Around me I see people with food/overweight-related health issues and I also see how they are usually in total denial about their own responsibility for their predicament. And furthermore, which is quite contrary to what the fat-lobby claims, mentioning that people could change their eating habits to get better is totally taboo.

What gets me more than anything is people who allow their little children to become severely obese and then won’t accept an offer of help. In my son’s old school (state primary) there was a girl in his class who was extremely fat. Her younger brother was the same – children of 8 and 6. The mother wasn’t particularly overweight and another mother told me that she had been on a diet, she’d previously been as fat as her children. How on earth can she put herself before her children like that? And my son informed me that they had some of the most unhealthy packed lunches in the whole school; and that’s saying something! Yes, the mother was working class and yes, their budget clearly limited. But bags of crisps, packets of cheese strings and packs of cookies are not cheap. And if she could put herself on a diet and lose 5-6 stone, what on earth prevented her from taking her children with her? Was she so dumb that she felt sorry for the children if they had to eat veg and no cookies like herself? I was told that there was nothing the school could do – not even preventing the mother from excusing the girl from PE!

Which is why I think that silence and “acceptance” in this area will not work. But I don’t believe in shaming either. I read somewhere that a school had decided to stop selling cakes at school events to curb obesity. That’s one of the dumbest things I’ve heard in a very long time. Obesity can only be fought by education and by taxing all prefab and semi prefab food with a sugar and/or fat content above x %. It is ridiculous that some of the very cheapest food items in the supermarket are also the most unhealthy! Jamie Oliver was right, right, right, when he tried to introduce proper food in schools and a love of cooking and ingredients. I have no doubt that for each person who learns to cook and to love and appreciate real food, there’ll be one person less to burden our health system with massive self-inflicted health problems. Have I told you about the boy from Dane’s old school who didn’t recognise a boiled egg?

The persons I mentioned above with food/overweight-related health issues all have one thing in common. They cannot cook and don’t have a clue about nutrition.

Share

Smile – if you can

Earlier this week Dane and I went on a tour of the CBBC. As a fantastic bonus for my little Blue Peter super-fan, we were treated to a visit in the studio where they were shooting next week’s episode of Blue Peter. All three presenters came over and said hello and Dane, who was the only one with a Blue Peter badge, got special attention. He was so, so proud and happy!

When we got home, he more or less redecorated his room with cut-out pages from the Blue Peter book which we’d bought in the BBC shop.

Briefly, to those of my readers who don’t or can’t watch Blue Peter. The programme is more than 50 years old and the concept is more or less unchanged. It’s about being a good and decent person and taking good care of the less fortunate and of animals. The three presenters are fantastic, but we’re particularly taken with Helen Skelton who last year ran 78 miles in 24 hours through the Namibian desert for charity. We followed her training and were just amazed by her bravery and stamina. For a young pretty girl with a super job, this really wasn’t something she needed to do!

This week Blue Peter has launched a charity appeal that means something special to me and thus to Dane too. It’s called Operation Smile and the purpose is to give children like this one a chance to smile at the world by giving them an operation. Please click the link and read about it.

From Operationsmile.org
From Operationsmile.org

Some of you will know why this means something special to me, some of you will not. But I’ll tell you. I was born like that little girl and have had more than 10 operations between the age of a few months and 21 to make it right. They are much better at it nowadays, though.

Me at about 2. Had already had two operations.
Me at about 2. Had already had two operations.

The amount of humiliating bullying that I suffered as a child I wouldn’t wish for anyone. And I’m not whining here – it’s just a fact. I’ve had a great life as a young person and as an adult, but what would it had been like if I hadn’t had easy free access to all those operations? And what if I’d been born in India?

So Dane and I have been busy changing t-shirts into surgery gowns. Here are the results:

They have now been delivered in the Blue Peter Smile Appeal box at our local Curry’s.

Please set to work with your own children and post links to pictures as comments to this post. If you don’t have smallish children or if you’re not in the UK, click here and see how you can help to give a child a new start in life.

Share

I love this woman

Lenore Skenazy
Lenore Skenazy

Her name is Lenore and she’s a New Yorker. Some time ago she wrote a small article in a relatively obscure paper which inadvertently changed her life. She admitted that she’d let her child ride the subway alone… close your eyes and imagine the torrent of hatemail, calls etc. that landed on her. Or read her own very funny account of it all on Huffington Post. Here’s her blog – it’s all about Free Range Kids, she’s even written a book about it.

I’m completely devoid of inspiration today, so I’ll just pass you on to a handful of women, who all write very well, engaging and funny:

This one calls herself @titianred on Twitter, where she never fails to entertain. She loves Monday mornings – or so she says.

Here’s Razorkitty – an intelligent, beautiful woman, who’s comments are gold when you’re watching certain programmes on TV.

Clare is also an eminent Twitterer. She’s promised (it was you, wasn’t it Clare?) to write on her blog why it is that buying clothes at Boden is a no-go. I’m waiting in trepidation…

Last one – I’ve written about Tania Kindersley before – and her lovely book Backwards in High Heels, which you can read more about on her own blog.

Over and out from Sunny Surrey.

Share

Music festival for the convenience generation (that's me)

Many months ago I got newsletter from RHS Wisley, which is right around the corner from where we live, so we go there all the time – sometimes just for coffee & cake. This newsletter announced the yearly music festival. My inclination was to go for Katherine Jenkins (despite fear of repertoire of musical hits), but I knew Dane would find that utterly boring, so suggested to husband that we indulge the little one (a huge Abba fan) and buy tickets for Abba/Queen tribute night. He agreed and I bought the tickets. The concert was sold out a few days later.

Abba
'Abba'
Queen
'Queen'

So, Saturday night was the night. Luckily the weather was quite warm, if not dry. We packed a basket full of munchies, wine and coffee and set off. Lots of people of all ages and really lovely ambience. Every police officer I saw had a huge smile on his/her face!

Having spent a considerable part of my adult life in the more forward part of the (Danish) music business, I’m not a huge fan of copy bands and never was much of a Queen fan. It’s different with Abba – as a Scandinavian they were just THERE – all the time. You could not NOT know their songs, unless you lived as a hermit. I’ve disliked most music festivals I’ve been to except the Roskilde Festival, which I think I visited 17 years in a stretch. Because of being in the biz, I always had privileges, so didn’t have to queue for hours to visit yucky toilets. At Wisley nobody had to queue for toilets and they were ever so neat! And nobody stumbled around half unconscious with drink and drugs and the music was not loud at all. Actually, it was so muted that I wondered whether I’m just simply going deaf!

‘Abba’ wasn’t that good, although not bad either. Worst bit was ‘Björn’ trying to be funny with applied Swedish accent. Arrgghhh. ‘Queen’ really was rather good – so much like the real thing. Very entertaining.

Also entertaining was of course people watching. He. I can’t decide whether I find it hilarious or exhilarating to see middle aged chunky women (like yours truly) going crazy to Abba? I would possibly go crazy to a different kind of concert – who knows (Erasure – wouldn’t that be fun?). But this left me more amused than anything else and I rarely got out of my comfy chair… Next to us was the funniest family. 50ty-something parents, gaunt dad with long curly (uni-professor style) hair and steel-rimmed glasses, mum very overweight and eh, motherly, two pre-teens, a girl who looked like a boy and a boy who looked like he’d much rather be doing math course work. Both kids sat slumped in their chairs throughout the evening without saying one word to their parents or each other. Parents were singing and dancing, but didn’t seem to share the experience as much as living it separately… Their picnic consisted solely of “food” out of foil bags.

As you can see from the pictures, Dane enjoyed it very much and blabbered on for at least an hour after coming home about this that and the other he’d observed at the concert. So it was definitely worth it!

Share

Something to be thankful for? (and Aristotle for kids)

After using new Netvibes tools to arrange all the blogs I follow into neat groups, easy to sort through, I’ve hardly looked at them. The reason is the same as for not writing anything here. So today I thought I should have a quick look through them and see if there’s anything worth recommending. And of course there is. Lots.

Blogging

My favourite economist Tyler Cowen meets another favourite of mine, Happiness-blogger Gretchen Rubin IRL. He teases us with their discussion subjects, but ends post with this, which I find very promising for when I’ll someday meet some of my blogger-favourites myself:

I have never once met a person whose blog I like and then been disappointed.  Never.

Children

Another economist (author of Parentonomics) obviously writes a lot about parenting. He recommends this post, which is one of the best I’ve ever read about children. It’s about how to teach them to argue well. And yes, we DO want to teach them that. If you have children, read it, read it, read it.

Happiness

A blogger who tethers between economy and politics is Chris Dillow. He has an interesting and intriguing post about happiness, one of my pet subjects.

Food

On the very, very important subject of food, I’ve just finished reading this absolutely mouthwatering post about Southern (We’re talking about the Southern US here) food prepared in a Northern kind of way. Oh me oh my; for a person who was in culinary heaven while travelling the US South and particularly in New Orleans, this post will inspire to quite a few meals around here. What do you say to Garlic Bread Pudding? I say YES.

Via one of my favourite food writers, Mark Bittman, is here a little treat to go with barbecued greens: Chili oil.

On being a woman, a mum, a person

Quite a while ago Tania Kindersley wrote the most beautiful and poetic post about what we do when a bad mood strikes. Except that I could never hope to write such adorable prose it echoes what I often think myself on these matters. How I wonder where the bad mood came from, what to do to expell it or even if I should (when not affecting others, of course). Tania has taken time off from her blog and Twitter and I must say, I truly miss her! Btw Tania, I was thinking we should also reflect on those days when we wake up in a great mood, equally inexplicably. That’s one of my favourite experiences of daily life -when you suddenly find that your spirits are high and the world looks like a friendly place. Where did it come from? We might never know. But I’m thankful.

The debate about working mums contra stay-at-home mums is still roaring. Here are three prominent voices: Sarah Vine in the Times. A fuming reply from “Potty Mummy”, a stay-at-home mum and a reply to this from Times editor Jennifer Howse on the Times Alpha Mummy blog. (Don’t bother with the comments, they are depressing, I just hate it when women are so poisonous against each other).

I am an in-betweener. I work, but I do it at home and often I don’t do much of it. But I would never choose to be a stay-at-home mum for the sole sake of my children. Although I love to cook and bake cupcakes, I’m just not the type. And I hate, HATE cleaning. I don’t entertain my children, I’m lousy at keeping up with their homework, I always try to wriggle out of playing board games etc. etc. And excursions never EVER go to kiddy entertainment places, but invariably to National Trust properties, Good Long Walks or museums etc. etc. I find it difficult to relate to many of the issues raised by the stay-at-home mums of my acquaintance, as I find them boring, quite simply. And I worry that they over-protect and overwhelm their children with their presence.

But I’m glad that I don’t have to go to work every day, because I do get to pick up son after school and chat with him, I do get to sit down with him and do something he wants, I do get to watch his TV favourites over his shoulder and I do get to make sure that he eats good and varied meals (almost) every day. And I don’t have to live in constant panic of him falling ill (which is probably why he never does).

But I can certainly relate to some of the points raised by Sarah Vine – the total lack of social status, the complete invisibility at social gatherings, the lack of a social life (besides Twitter…). I thoroughly miss the social status my job used to give me and it’s no use claiming that I don’t. But I don’t miss the stress of office life, the (sometimes) awful malice of other women, the struggle to live with a boss who’s just not that bright…

Bottom line I guess is same old, same old. You can’t have it all. So sit back and enjoy what you do have, while you still have it. Veeeery philosophical and not even very profound, I know. But that’s me.

Share

There's nothing a brain scan won't reveal

Science:

Activity in Caudate Nucleus (a part of our brain) predicts our choices. That’s another part of our brain that seems to be moored in the hunter/gather era of humanity, because the study shows that the brain pushes our choice towards the one with the largest perceived reward.

This is funny! Apparently, there’s very little you can’t see on brain scans. For instance, you can predict blunders! Seems like life would be different (easier?) if we could walk around with brain scanners on our heads all the time…

When romantically inclined, we don’t want to follow the crowd. It’s the other way ‘round when we’re scared.

IQ:

A brain scan can show IQ?

Children:

When discussing how we bring up our children and feminism issues with friends and family I’m always arguing that 1) We must answer questions about sex when put to us by our children, in an honest and close-to-the-truth way, according to their age. If we don’t they’ll know how to get the information from other sources, which might not be as credible. They WILL get the information! And 2) that men and women will never be equal as long as the porn industry is as skewed as it is. When boys and girls see the average porn flick or magazine, they get a sadly stereotypical impression of sexuality. Finally a programme on Channel 4 (and not just yet another study by a feminist psychologist) shows how youngsters get their “knowledge” about sex: Porn. Think about that, parents, before you snub another sex-related question from your children out of misplaced modesty.

Told you so… Extra-curricular activities and good social skills in high school will benefit you later in life.

This story was all over Twitter yesterday. When your toddler doesn’t respond to your REPEATED instructions, it’s not because they’re not listening. They’re just storing it for later. What I don’t understand then, is what happens with bigger children? Maybe they are just storing the instructions for MUCH later?

Health:

Education slows down the spreading of HIV in Sub-Saharan countries. Read the interesting description of how, in the beginning of the epidemic, the disease spread fastest among educated males, because they had more leisure time and money to provide them greater access to commercial sex workers. Notice this new euphemism for prostitutes… Where did that come from?

A cure for Herpes. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Politics:

Why is it that politicians from all over the Western world aren’t queueing to scold Putin and his puppets for these killings? Russia actually claims to be a democratic country and wants a place among the world’s leading nations!

For a nation that embraces countries like China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Pakistan etc. it’s about time they loosen up towards Cuba.

Food:

Recipes on Twitter… I’ve just added a host of twittering chefs to my stream. Inspiration is everything when you’re the one left to do the everyday cooking!

Share

What makes you happy? I know and you don't…

Had nice Mother’s Day with flowers – hand-picked at real florist by young son – and womenly presents. It was an incredibly beautiful day, so we went to Box Hill, the highest vantage point here in Surrey bringing a picnic. We had a lovely time and even got some much-needed exercise walking up and down the hill.

Young son admiring view from Box Hill, Surrey
Young son admiring view from Box Hill, Surrey

In the morning I favourited a huge number of tweets and bookmarked an even bigger number of news from my weekly dosage of science news. All at your disposal.

Politics:

This is really good news: The US is completely reviewing and changing its policy towards the poppy-growers in Afghanistan. Lead came from @howardsend, who generally tweets very interestingly.

The populist blah blah blah about youth today and elevated murder and crime rates is just that. When the real pros dive into the statistics, a totally calming result emerges. But that doesn’t sell one single copy of the Daily Mail and doesn’t win over voters.

Happiness:

They don’t make us happy. A study shows that people with children aren’t happier than people without them. Personally, I think that the moments of utter happiness we have with and because of our children are offset by the colossal amount of worry they also give us. I’m guessing that people without children don’t suffer the same extremes – or at least not as often as we poor parents do…

A stranger is better at predicting what makes us happy than we are ourselves. See that’s interesting! The study was led by one of my heroes, Dan Gilbert. I’m always trying to get people to read his book.

Botox hinders happiness… Ah, well, sort of. If you don’t show your disgust over something but try to hold it in, the disgusted feeling will stay with you longer. People who’ve been botoxed can’t show disgust – or any other emotion for that matter.

Tech:

Stephen Fry is one of the most popular celebs on Twitter. I’m not following him myself, but I see the occasional ReTweet and I have also visited his page. He is funny, there’s no way around it. He’s given an interview to BBC’s Radio 4 about why he looooves the web. It’s good. He says things some of us dare not say, we just think it. That’s a relief!

Here’s a quick run-through of a panel discussion about the future of the music bizz held at SXSW. These bizz people were clearly well chosen, because here’s people thinking out of the box and not shooting at everything that moves from copyright trenches.

Tips for Facebook power users. There’s even a tip that tells you how to return your Facebook page to the old look and feel before THE CHANGE. If you so wish.

Twitterer Lulu has made this cute little Twictionary over the strange words you encounter once you’ve entered the realm of Twitter (AKA the Twitterverse).

Speed up Firefox. Wauw, I needed that piece of info! Thanks to The G Man.

An interesting list of influential people in the tech world. Nothing to do with money, I should add. Link from Sheamus Bennett.

Science:

A huge study (from the US) seems to have proven that blacks actually get cancer more than whites. Even if I can see that they’ve done a lot to eliminate other factors, I still wonder if this would also be true if the comparison had been made between white Americans and Africans (in Africa) with same demographic and social characteristics.

The language of music is now proven to be universal. Must admit that I would have been more surprised if it wasn’t.

Here’s a really odd one – of the archeological sort. A study of 500 year old teeth reveal which bodies in a gravesite on La Isabela belonged to sailors brought there by Columbus and the interesting fact that some of the people buried there were almost certainly from Africa!

Health:

The fatter the parent the less he/she is able to see a weight problem in own offspring. Maybe not surprising, but still? How can you fail to notice that your daughter’s legs are twice as big as the other girls’? And that your son needs shirts for grown-ups even when he’s same height as the other boys in his class?

My father-in-law (80, super-fit, very healthy) has been eating after the GI diet principles for many years (1/2 plate: veg, 1/4 plate meat/fish, 1/4 plate rice/pasta/pot./etc.). Apparently one of the reasons it works is because a diet low on GI will make you feel more full. Makes good sense. Am trying to buy more veg and less meat already, inspired by Mark Bittman.

My husband sometimes angers me by salting his food before he’s even tasted it. I’m showing him this article about how a very slight reduction in daily salt intake significantly reduces your risk of heart deceases.

IQ:

More evidence that it’s highly hereditary.

Children:

Parents grossly underestimate the influence their children have on them when grocery shopping. Well, I don’t. Which is why I generally avoid having any of them with me when shopping. The 20-year old is worse than the 7-year old!

Viva music! The combination of children and music is good. Always. Never underestimate it. I’ve written about it before, here and here. And now there’s a new American study, showing that children who learn music also enhance their cognitive skills.

Psychology:

It pays off to be nice. Not just in the afterlife…

On a much related note: It’s harmful, particularly to men, to be angry and aggressive.

Share

Musings before Mother's Day

Feminism:

It being Mother’s Day tomorrow, the Times has asked six women, mainly writers, to write a letter to their children at 21 (they all have young children) or to share the advice of their own mothers. Some of these letters are so, so beautiful. I didn’t just well up, I had to go and get a clean hanky out of the drawer. I like Sarah Vine’s and Justine Picardie’s the best. Found on Tania Kindersley’s brand new blog.

The Times has also compiled a list of the most powerful Muslim women in Britain. An interesting read!

So, at 49, I’ve finally found a word that defines me: Geek Mum

Olivia James writes a very poignant piece about Mother’s Day. Read it if you have a troubled relationship with your own mother!

Food:

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has a weekly food column in the Guardian. If it wasn’t online I’d feel compelled to buy the paper every Saturday. Actually, I might do that anyway, the Weekend Guardian is a very good paper, lots of sustenance! Today it’s about flour. Also one of my pet causes. I buy almost all my flour freshly milled at the Farmers Market, not least the lovely spelt. It’s a totally different experience from the supermarket stuff. Hugh forgets to mention cornmeal – not the dreary stuff that you buy to thicken your gravy, but the real stuff. I use it in muffins, which then look beautiful and yellowish and as one of three types of flour in my sourdough bread.

Sourdough bread & cake with muscovado sugar, cinnamon & courgettes.
Sourdough bread & cake with muscovado sugar, cinnamon & courgettes.

I’ve promised Tania Kindersley to publish my recipe for Panzanella. It’s from The Blue River Café Cook Book. I hope they won’t sue me for copyright infringement…

Panzanella – serves 6:

  • 3 stale ciabatta loaves
  • 1 kg fresh, plum tomatoes, chopped, seeds removed, save juices (key to recipe is the tomatoes actually tasting of something)
  • 4 garlic cloves, crushed (I always dump them in boiling water for a bit to take the top of the “sting”)
  • Maldon sea salt (or similar) & freshly ground pepper
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 tbs red wine vinegar
  • 3 red peppers – grilled until black & skinned, then chopped
  • 2 fresh chillies – not necessary
  • 100 gr salted, large capers
  • 100 gr salted anchovies (these can be ground to a paste and mixed with the dressing)
  • 150 gr black, pitted olives
  • 1 large bunch of basil

Cut the bread (preferably stale) into bite-sized chunks. Mix all “wet” ingredients and toss the bread chunks in this. Mix all ingredients. Don’t serve cold.

Science:

Also in the Guardian, Ben Goldacre again crucifies a number of journalists for their faulty and misleading interpretations of a scientific paper about prostate cancer.

I’ll never stop recommending TED. Probably the best source of ideas on the web. It never, never fails to inspire and to lift my spirits. Here’s about how to grow your own fresh air… What to do when you DO NOT have green fingers?

Tech:

A lot of people are – as usual – angry with the new design of Facebook. Maybe I’m easy, but I’m fine with it… Here’s one who doesn’t like it, but makes a good joke of it.

Here are some very useful tips about how to customise the new Facebook. I’ve already done it – I have some FB friends whose updates are rather boring, to be frank. But I still want to keep them as friends. Done!

I don’t find any reason whatsoever to doubt this story about the GRU and the FSB in Russia using cyber “weapons” against Georgia in the war. But then I’m not a great fan of the Russian Leadership.

Oh yes, and as an Iphone owner I’m thrilled to bits by this. Can’t believe I forgot to write about it earlier!

Politics:

An American soldier tells the moving story of when he accompanied a fallen soldier to his final resting place. Very touching and also enlightning. The Americans are good at honouring their fallen. Would be nice if they were as good – or even better – at honouring the wounded and crippled.

Here’s about the methods of torture applied by the CIA. You know, the ones sanctioned by John Yoo, as mentioned yesterday.

This sounds like a good plan. Geithner reveals how the US will deal with its toxic assets.

See, here’s what sets a respectable Republican apart from one you can’t respect. Please Sarah Palin, can’t you just go elk hunting forever?

How can this and this take place in the same country at the same time? It’s about the right to life on the one hand and the right to a dignified death on the other.

With a few exceptions, which are from my RSS reader, all of the above were harvested over 24 hours on Twitter. So don’t tell me twittering is a waste of time.

Share