To all my lovely subscribers – blog transfers

badmumsdesktopI’m still here- and just spent a lot of time clearing the tumbleweed from my blog – a lot has happened and I can’t wait to tell you. (I’m sure you’ve really missed me!)

But now I’ve gone and over challenged myself technically by transferring my blog to a new domain name http://www.whyishersostroppy.com – and I would love if you would pop over there and subscribe to the new site.

It looks like a dog’s breakfast at the moment, but I’m working on it and the content is the same.

Thanks for bearing with me – looking forward to bigger and more beautiful things on my new site.

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New Year’s resolutions for mums – be even stroppier!

Photograph of mother and daughter

Paula and I are looking forward to being even more stroppy in 2014

Demanding, selfish, self-centred, stroppy, difficult, complex, complicated.

Throughout my life these labels have been used to discourage me from being myself.

At school I was inquisitive, sensitive, emotional and fiercely independent. Yet, these qualities which I now know should be nurtured and encouraged, especially in women, earned me derogative labels which stuck to my identity like cruel stick-it notes.

A cage of Calvinism and chauvinism

Growing up in a conservative society, I was a free spirit trapped in a cage of Calvinism and chauvinism: Girls should’t smoke, get drunk, girls shouldn’t show too much emotion, certainly not too much anger. Girls shouldn’t laugh too loudly, swear, or go out to restaurants or cinemas alone. Girls should not ask too many questions, they should do as they’re told. Women should give up their careers for their families after studying for years, women should do all the housework and smile while they’re doing it, women should respect their men, even if their men don’t respect them.

Fighting spirit 

Time after time, my rebellious nature made me stand up to what I saw as gross injustices, my fighting spirit made me ask questions when I knew the consequences would be disastrous. My spirit tried to soar while being battered from all sides like a seedling facing strong winds and storms pushing towards the light. My spirit was crushed back into the earth too many times to recall.

Believing the labels 

There were many times when the labels defined me. When I would accept them and when I, too, would punish myself for being demanding and difficult, for daring to question, for daring to be strong.

And every time I believed those labels, I would sink into a depression, which would eat away at my soul like a cancer. I didn’t realise it at the time but the unbearable sadness was a direct result of looking at myself through others’ critical eyes – allowing them to stamp their labels on my soul.

Reject attempts to control my thoughts

Slowly, over the years I’ve come to realise that the only way to be happy is to stop trying to please others and to be who I am. To not care a damn about what others think, to seek the company of people who value these qualities and to shun the narrow-mindedness of people who judge anything they don’t agree with. To reject any attempt to manipulate or control my thoughts or to make me feel small.

My only New Year’s Resolution therefore – is to be even more ‘stroppy, difficult’ and demanding’ – in other words to be true to myself and wear these labels with pride.

And I wish the same for my own independent-minded daughter Paula and for every woman who has ever been tagged by a label she didn’t deserve.

What labels have you been stuck with during your life? Have you managed to get rid of them – and how?

National Space Centre: a blast of a day out for families

Boy in Astronaut suit photograph

Astronaut Max on the moon – having a ball of a time…

We’re not an easy lot to please, but our family day out at the National Space Centre in Leicester was a blast!

A four-year-old obsessed with Lego and toilet humour, a 9-year-old who refuses to concentrate on anything other than a computer game for longer than 10 seconds and an 11-year-old nearing the teenage tipping point and with zero tolerance of her two brothers.

Grumpy dad, stroppy mum 

Add to that a grumpy German dad whose idea of fun is watching historical documentaries. Throw in a stroppy mum who needs yoga and Chardonnay to get through most days and it becomes nearly impossible to find a family day out that works for everyone and doesn’t end up with all of us wanting to kill one another.

I had my doubts 

So, when we were invited to a VIP family day out to watch Back To The Moon For Good, the latest show in the planetarium at the National Space Centre in Leicester, I had my doubts. It starts with a one-and-a-half hour drive from our home in Buckinghamshire accompanied by constant squabbling in the back of the car, threats of carsickness from the tween and a husband with an already challenged sense of humour getting grizzlier by the minute.

Rocket tower at National Space Centre

Bubble-wrapped rocket tower at the National Space Centre, Leicester

We arrived at the Space Centre at 10am – the iconic 42m high rocket tower towering above its drab surroundings. I still had my doubts, but from the moment we entered we were mesmerised.

There are seven themed interactive galleries, as well as the Sir Patrick Moore Planetarium to explore and it literally offers something for everybody. We didn’t manage to see everything during our 5-hour visit and left with our heads buzzing. We’re planning a follow up visit soon.

Here are some of our highlights:

  1. Back To The Moon for Good – this amazing show scheduled to start in November in the Planetarium tells the story of 20 teams competing for the Google Lunar X prize. The scientists from around the world are trying to design a robotic spacecraft to land on the moon. Images are projected onto the entire 58-foot dome surface and totally surround you, extending beyond your peripheral vision and transporting you to different worlds. It’s the closest I’ll get to being in space during my lifetime.

Tip: Try to schedule the show somewhere for the middle of your outing to give tired feet a bit of a rest, before hitting the exhibitions again.  My husband loved the show and thoroughly enjoyed meeting the German members of one of the teams competing in this challenge as part of our VIP experience. This was right up his alley

2. The 42m-rocket tower – travel up the length of the Blue Streak rocket in a transparent elevator to the top to take your photograph on the moon, relive the 1969 moon landing and see an Apollo moon rock.

Tip: Don’t miss the rocket launching countdown and blast off in the Cafeteria, complete with smoke. This was Max’s favourite. (The space toilet also appealed obviously)

3. Ride the 3D Spaceflight induction module to Europa – a white knuckle ride through radiation clouds, a near miss with an asteroid and a hair-raising ice canyon run.  The simulator ride was Lukas’s favourite.

Tip: Don’t eat just before you go on this ride and keep your bag on your lap!

4. The weather pod – The tween (Paula) loved a chance to be in the limelight in the weather pod where you get to do a live weather forecast on television and can upload your video to Youtube and share it with friends and family – here’s ours! I tried to embed it below, but if it’s not working – check it out on Youtube:  (Any tech tips welcome)

5. Over 150 interactive challenges and experiences :

Boy entering space rocket

Astronaut Max entering a rocket

  • Girl at exhibition model in National Space Centre

    Paula orbiting planets around the sun at the National Space Centre in Leicester

    Do the stress test to see if you’ve got what it takes to be an astronaut

  • see if you’re likely to suffer from space sickness
  • climb through a black hole
  • try to lift a tin of baked beans on different planets, touch a meteorite
  • land a lunar module on the moon
  • watch a video of astronauts eating and drinking food in space (this was my personal favourite – being quite keen on food and drink on earth, it would be a concern for me in space).

The combination of entertainment and opportunities to explore things aimed at all ages is brilliantly done and kept us all interested throughout – no mean feat!

Tip: Don’t spend too much time in one area – as there’s lots more to see!

Smiling faces all round 

Our day out at the National Space Centre was absolutely amazing and we all left with smiles on our faces, which doesn’t happen often. We even survived being stuck in traffic back home for two hours.

Boy in front of display at National Space Centre

Lukas lighting up a planet at the National Space Centre

Disclaimer

We were offered the VIP day and tickets to see the show for free, but I would not have written a glowing review had that not truly been our experience.

For prices and practical information visit the National Space Centre website.

Any other bad mummies out there?

Image

Any other bad mummies out there?

I now edit a Bad Mums Round-up for Britmums every month – no prizes for guessing why they chose me.
The purpose is not to name and shame, but to share your imperfections, guilt and failures to make us laugh (not in a nasty way) – but to make me and hopefully some other mums feel a bit better about ourselves. Tweet me @CheneKoscielny your bad mummy posts – and I’ll include them in the round-up. Go on – I know I’m not the only one who’s not perfect…

Why we don’t need more advice from Sheryl Sandberg

Photograph of Whyishersostroppy holding hand up against Sheryl Sandberg

No more, please Sheryl Sandberg

Sheryl is the kind of woman who gets up my nose. I don’t so much resent that she’s loaded (400 million US Dollars), has the mother of all jobs (Facebook boss) and combines this with being a mum or even that she looks 10 years younger than me at the same age. (44)

Full of it 

What really bugs me is that she is so full of it. She just can’t stop rubbing our noses in it.  As if it’s not enough that she’s clearly made it big time, she can’t stop offering us pearls of wisdom on how we should all stop being such miserable failures and get this work/life balancing act sorted so we too could become millionaire superstars.

Her book Lean In warned that unless we lean into our careers when we start having babies, even if it takes breastfeeding during conference calls, we’ll never fulfill our potential. Well, thanks for that, Sheryl. See my thoughts on the book here.

Share the housework 

Her latest advice for working mums is even more enlightening.  Want to have it all? Just get your husband to do 50% of the household chores and child rearing. Simples.

This is according to her foreword in a new self-help book published in America (where else?): Getting to the 50/50: how working couples can have it all by sharing it all.

So the argument is that convincing men to share the chores provides women with more choices and benefits the men and kids too.  Although she and husband, Dave, “can afford exceptional childcare”, they still have difficult decisions about who will pick up the slack when the other can’t be there.

But they do aim for a 50/50 split (of the remaining 20% of duties presumably) because it’s fair and gives women more opportunities.

Really? To imagine anyone researching and writing a page, never mind a book about this, beggars belief. What exactly is there to research?

According to a report by the Institute for Public Policy Research, just 10% of men do an equal amount of housework as their wives.

So, let’s see: do you think these women have better chances than the 90% whose husbands come home, dump their shoes in the entrance and ask: “What’s for dinner, dear?” Uh… yes,  duh!

How to get him off the couch

What would be infinitely more useful would be if Sheryl and her coterie of friends in the banking sector tell us just HOW we should get the lazy, spoilt, selfish bastards off the couch and emptying the bin without turning the marriage into a daily episode from Married with Kids.

At this point, I should confess that my husband actually does quite a bit around the house. Not quite 50% – not even close, but a decent amount. This is because he’s German and because I’ve become less willing to be his slave for little or no appreciation through the years.

So he’s quite comfortable ironing his own shirts, making the children’s lunchboxes, unpacking the dishwasher and packing away clothes.

Now, if only he did his 35% chores and parenting properly, without me having to go around and redo it, I would probably be heading for my first million by now.

Domestic god – yes please

But in my experience our set-up is quite rare.

Some men, the majority – have no idea how to hang up washing, would never dream of ironing their shirts and would be surprised to find out that toilets don’t clean themselves.

And the women will moan to their friends about having to carry the can, but would not really expect their husbands to touch a duster or look after the children they helped produce.

As a columnist wrote in the Sunday Times this week: “He is not a domestic god. I did not marry him for his ability with a duster.” She says she doesn’t find him sexy in this role.

Really, darling? So, he must have married you for your ability with a duster then. Do you also have to wear a short little skirt and apron while you clean up after him? How very convenient for her husband.

Getting away with murder

My mouth often hangs open when clever women tell me what their husbands get away with at home. They work so hard, must let them play more golf, go to the pub more often, go for boys’ weekends away, while you stay home, clean the house and look after his children. Not something Sheryl and her mates would put up with, I can assure you. But then, that’s everyone’s personal choice, isn’t it.

There are many reasons why women choose to let their men off the hook when it comes to sharing housework and parenting responsibilities. Cultural beliefs, buying into chauvinistic values, perfectionism and a fear of confrontation or turning marriage into a constant battlefield being some of them.

Personal choice

Each to her own. Some marriages may be better off without screaming matches about whose turn it is to take the bins out. Some women may choose not to lean into their careers because spending time with their children when they are little is more important to them than a million dollars.

I wish someone would tell Sheryl Sandberg to mind her own business and that we’re actually doing OK. We don’t need her advice, but her next book is probably already with the publisher:

How to raise successful children in 15 seconds a day. 

How will we survive until then?

Our very different Greek family holiday

Family on the beach in Porto Rafti

On the beach in Porto Rafti

PIcture the Greek island in the Mama-Mia movie – you know the one – with crystal waters, hills covered in crisp white buildings teeming with straw-hatted tourists.

Now wipe this image from your mind completely and imagine a very different Greece, a protected little bay on the mainland, which doesn’t have quite the postcard wow-factor of Mykonos or Santorini but which makes up for it a thousand times with glimpses of real Greek culture.

Where the Athenians go 

“Porto Rafti is where the Athenians go on holiday,” my friend Caroline (her of lunchboxworld.co.uk) had told me when she mentioned they would not be using their apartment in Greece this summer.

Fancying myself as the footloose, ‘off-the-beaten-track’ kind of traveller – and at the moment very much a budget traveller, I really liked the sound of this. I’d long ago made peace with the fact that unless I did a Shirley Valentine or won the lottery, I was never going to see Greece in August, so this seemed like an opportunity not to be missed.

On our 20-minute drive from Athens airport, half-finished buildings scarred the landscape confirming the country’s financial woes. It also became clear that Greeks do tacky quite well – judging from the glaring neon signs and shouting posters competing for the attention of drivers-by.

 Invitingly clear waters

Family in the water at Porto Rafti

Lukewarm, clear waters… perfect for cooling down

My sagging spirits lifted when the bay of Porto Rafti opened up in front of us in a tranquil late afternoon scene of invitingly clear waters and gently bobbing sailing boats.

An hour later we walked a few 100 metres down to the beach from the apartment to join extended Greek families for a sunset stroll along the promenade and a quick dip in the lukewarm ocean.

 Families are big

Families are big in Greece, in more ways than one. Several generations gather for lingering beachside picnics, chattering loudly and soaking up every last ray of sunshine.  Children are at the heart of every gathering, hunting for crabs in the rock pools with their nets, scootering in and out of the human traffic along the promenade or splashing around in the sea goggle-eyed.  We all loved swimming with goggles observing the sea life underneath, although the soukres or jellyfish that seem to creep up on you and can cause a nasty sting, were quite unnerving.

 Not a foreigner in sight 

Joining the Greeks in their worshipping of the sun and love of the sea in the almost complete absence of other foreigners, felt like a special privilege.

Skin cancer doesn’t seem to bother them much and everyone, including the 70-year-old ladies who bob up and down in the sea careful not to disturb their weekly blow-dries, is a deep coppery brown.

Me on the beach

Less obsessed with the body beautiful

The obsession with the body beautiful also seems less pronounced in these parts with fewer gym-toned physiques and a much more healthy spread of gracefully aging, normal flesh on display. Put it this way, I felt relatively comfortable in my costume, which doesn’t happen often.

A different kind of heat

It was August, so it was always going to be hot, but this was a different kind of heat – an oppressive force that slaps you down every time you try to get up and do something  constructive between noon and 5pm. In the end you stop fighting it. You have no choice, but to slow right down and even succumb to the odd Siesta. We found it to be a good time to play a selection of games in my friend’s family-friendly apartment.

After 5pm the port gets its second wind, restaurants start serving frappuccinos, ice cream parlours tempt with fresh flavours and families crawl out of their midday hiding places onto promenades and beaches for a second instalment of sun and sea.

To round off the day, the skies reward you with a spectacular Greek sunset like a changing artwork of watercolour pastels running into each other with dramatic effect.

 No English… not a word

I can’t remember when last in my life I’ve been to a place where you can’t get by with English. In most foreign cities people at least understand a few words.

But in Porto Rafti it soon became clear that English was really not spoken, not a word.

As adventurous, intrepid travellers, we loved being surprised when ordering food and trying helplessly to interact with friendly locals – a bit like trying to eat food without cutlery.

However, when my daughter fell down the marble stairs in the apartment block breaking a bone in her shoulder two days before the end of our stay and we needed to find a hospital, this became more of a challenge.

Broken arm  

Girl with arm in sling in Porto Rafti Bay

Paula with her broken arm in sling after falling down marble stairs in Porto Rafti

Through a miraculous series of coincidences we were directed via hand gestures, drawings and finally a few words of English from a helpful lady at the tollgate to a big state hospital, where my daughter was seen to within 20 minutes and we paid 6 Euro for an X-ray and a sling. The economy may be crumbling, but the state health service is still going strong.

 

Greek salads, fresh fish and souvlaki 

A plate of Greek salad

Greek salads to die for!

Boy eating fish

Fresh seafood: Lukas with a sardine hanging out his mouth…

Being on a budget, we didn’t eat in expensive restaurants, of which there are a few dotted along the pretty marina on the opposite side of the bay.  However, we did treat ourselves a few times to very reasonable Souvlaki – chicken or pork strips with trimmings in a deliciously doughy pita-bread, as well as fried squid, sardines and arrogant and generous helpings of Greek salad.

For one of our home-cooked meals we bought squid from the weekly food market and fried it in the pan, served with lemon and chunks of fresh bread from the bakery around the corner.  Delicious!

 In the footsteps of civilisation

Family in fornt of Akropolis in Athens

The Koscielnys in the footsteps of civilisation – on the Akropolis hill in Athens

We had great intentions of taking the ferry from the nearby harbour town of Rafina to one of the islands, but in the end we slowed down so much– that all we could muster was a one day-trip to Athens climbing up to the top of the hill of the Akropolis in searing  heat.

We were pushing the limits of the family with this outing, resulting in frayed tempers and tantrums – mainly from my husband – but the realisation that we were walking in the footsteps of civilisation, the impressive columns carved out of marble without the help of modern machinery and breathtaking views of Athens, made it all worthwhile in the end.

I’ve yet to experience the Greek Islands and maybe I’ll be blown away when I do, but Porto Rafti gave us a very different, affordable Greek holiday which felt authentic and most importantly forced us to calm down and relax.

Family in front of Akropolis ruins

Magnificent marble columns of the Akropolis in Athens

Have you been to Greece? Can you relate to our experience?  What did you think?

 

A strong Greek coffee 

Forget Majorca, Ennigerloh is the place to be this summer!

Little boy playing with water and sand

Max enjoys the water and sand play area at the Freibad in Ennigerloh

I´m typing this post on a German keyboard which annozinglz swaps the y and z, so bear with me till I get the hang of it.

This summer holidaz report is brought to you, not from mz deckchair on the beach in the Caribbean, but seated amidst stuffed animals, and plastic pot plants in a black leather armchair in my father-in-law´s study.

We are spending the first few days of our summer break trapped in a forgotten little outpost in Northern Germany called Ennigerloh, where my husband spent the first 18 years of his life (which explains quite a lot.)

The little village in Munsterland best known for its gigantic cement factory, does not feature on Tripadvisor as a sought after holiday destination (in fact it doesn´t feature at all – surprisingly…) so I wasn´t exactly counting the days.

Holiday is a state of mind

But a friend once told me that a holiday is a state of mind and has nothing to do with the destination, so I was determined to see a different side of Ennigerloh this time.  And, believe it or not, the little Cinderella town has seduced us with its charms over the past few days.

Spaß (fun) in the Freibad (open air pool)

The fact that we find ourselves in the midst of a stifling heat wave perforated by the odd spectacular thunderstorm means we´re spending a lot of time at the Freibad.  The open air public swimming pool, of which almost every German town boasts one, puts our drab leisure centre pools to shame.

The Freibad – almost every village has one – which costs 2 pounds (can´t find pound sign on this computer) to enter, is as close to a children´s paradise as you can get.  My older two spend hours jumping from the 5m, 3m and 1m diving boards into the sparkling Olympic-sized pool in Oelde, a neighbouring town. I even managed the 3m jump after holding up the queue of German children for 20 minutes to much ridicule from my husband and hysterics from my children.

Max, 4, meanwhile has two smaller pools with sprinklers and slides to choose from. Luscious lawns and huge trees surround the pools with (towel-free) deck chairs and picnic spots as far as the eye can see. (Obviously the Germans are more chilled about deck chairs at home than when they are on holiday)

Little boy flying through air after jumping off 5m diving board

Lukas, 9, flying through the air from a 5m diving board in Germany

middle-aged woman jumping off 3m diving board

Me leaping off 3m diving board – watch out Tom Daley

Competitive water polo

The children took part in an organised water polo tournament with local children and soon started shouting to team mates in German after realising that was the only way to get their hands on the ball. The game took quite a serious turn after the dads, including my aggressively competitive husband, joined in.

A young reporter from the local newspaper: Die Glocke was on standby to photograph the holiday fun, so my husband (who can´t resist a bit of limelight) and children may have made the news in his hometown.

A stretch of sand dotted with beach baskets – as they´re called in German – wooden two-man seats with canvas awning overhead and footrest, an invitation for stressed-out parent souls to relax while the children get to grips with a variety of water pumps and wheels. A permanent outdoor table tennis table and giant chess board and squeaky clean changing rooms and showers make this one of the best pools I´ve ever been to.

Spaghetti ice cream anyone?

Famished after several hours in the water, we hit the Venetian Eiskafe – an Italian ice-cream parlour distinctly out of place in the industrial heartland of Germany – for generous plates of spaghetti eis: spaghetti-shaped ice-cream drizzled with strawberry sauce and topped with smarties. I enjoy a cream-laced iced coffee with enough calories to last me until Christmas.

Family in front of ice cream shop in Ennigerloh, Germanz

Eiscafe Venezia in Germany – might as well be in Italy

Family eating ice cream at EisKafe in Ennigerloh

Spaghetti ice cream and sinful iced coffees

German children are well-catered for – the playgrounds are creative masterpieces, testament to imagination that the nation is not usually credited for.  Drawbridges, towers and castles with twisted slides and tunnels can be found in every village.

Paradise for cyclists

Unlike at home, where we are too scared to venture out on our bicycles as a family, Germany is a cyclist´s paradise. Cycle routes and lane criss-cross the town and take you across acres of stretched out rural fields under glorious open skies. Everyone aged between 4 and 94 uses this as a mode of transport and I can vouch for its safety, even after a few glasses of Schnapps.

My husband and I cycled 10kms to a restaurant in a nearby village overlooking a lake, for a cocktail evening that could almost compete in terms of food, music and location with a Manhattan hotspot, if you ignore the local farmgirl out on the town dresscode and the perennial stereotype of socks with Birkenstock sandals, favourited by hardcore Germans. Tonight the plan is to cycle to a nearby beer garden for more Weiz-bier, a refreshing beer served with lemon slices.

After three days, I feel more relaxed than if I´d spent a week in Majorca. Whoever said Germans don´t know how to have fun?

How are you spending the first days of the summer holidays? Have you ever considered Germany for a family holiday? What were your impressions?