In praise of cycling and a dress colour

It must be about time I posted another photo of Busby so here he is, with precious cargo:

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I cycle to and from school everyday and I love it. My only complaint is that it has become too easy and the distance to school too short. I’m stronger than I was when we first arrived and the hills aren’t as difficult anymore. They still get my heart-rate up which is a good thing, but I don’t feel like I’m pushing myself very hard.

I cycled passed a police officer on the pavement this week and she said hello to me. Phew. I often pass city council vehicles too and they always stop and give way to me, even though I’m crossing from one footpath to another, which is technically illegal. It’s a good sign that the law enforcement and politicians are on-board with cycling. I just wish they’d do more to encourage other people to cycle too. The low cycling rates are undoubtedly due to the perceived danger of cycling in traffic which could be rectified by building dedicated cycle paths.

I’ve heard that roads were not built for cars, they were built for bicycles. When the bicycle first became popular in the late 19th century, there were no cars, and it was cyclists who paved the way for a national road network for the purposes of cycling. Cycling was predominantly the domain of the wealthy and it was these early cyclists and their well-organised cycling clubs that lobbied for proper paved roads and maps. There’s a good article about it in the Guardian.

Bicycles also made a positive contribution to the women’s liberation movement in the 1800s. They gave women freedom, mobility and made women look more sporty and less like the fragile creatures Victorian women were supposed to be. There’s quite a good article about it here with a funny quote from the era:

Cycling tends to destroy the sweet simplicity of her girlish nature; besides how dreadful it would be if, by some accident, she were to fall into the arms of a strange man

Falling into the arms of a strange man doesn’t sound very bad to me at all.

One more, completely unrelated thing. What colour is this dress? Please vote in my poll below (but not if you’re Zandy or Pam). Thanks!

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My reckless childhood

Modern parents, like me, have a tendency to wrap their kids in cotton wool. We do it because we don’t want anything bad to happen to them. Fortunately my kids are very cautious and would never do anything reckless anyway but I was thinking recently about some of the things I did as a child and how I would never let my own kids do these things.

What did I do?

My grandfather was a pig farmer in outback Queensland and we used to visit the farm almost every year. The farm is still there; my uncles own it now. Something I used to do that completely horrifies me is I’d climb the tall ladder into the towering silos of grain and run around inside. It was fun because you’d sink into the grain up to your knees or more, making it hard to run. But had anyone poured grain out from the bottom of the silo, and they would never have known I was in there, I’d have become quickly buried in a quick-sand-like substance and suffocated. I’m not sure whether my parents knew that we did this. Probably not.

We also used to tear around the farm on my grandfather’s ride-on lawn mower. He would take the blade off so this was a relatively safe activity. We’d ride horses, sometimes bareback (ponies only I think) and milk the cow (or try to anyway), and collect eggs from the hens. We also used to drive the Mini Moke long before we ever had a car licence.

There were countless hours spent exploring the scrub and wandering off in random directions where I suppose we could have got lost and/or bitten by a poisonous snake. The farm had the biggest huntsmen spiders I’ve ever seen and I’m terrified of spiders. The toilet under the house was a home for green frogs whose legs would appear from under the rim with every flush.

What’s the most dangerous thing you did as a kid?


Women and the Islamic State

As a woman living in the 21st Century, I have enjoyed the freedom to study, to work, and to express my thoughts without fear of punishment, and so I am completely dumbfounded as to why three teenage girls would voluntarily fly to Syria to join the Islamic State. What could they possibly be thinking?

According to the group Raqqa is being slaughtered silently, women as young as 9 can be married off to Islamic fighters. Young girls are sold from one fighter to another and repeatedly raped. There are also reports that women are subjected to brutal sexual assaults, are not allowed to attend University or to work, their movements are restricted, they are unlikely to ever be allowed to leave Syria, and they must completely cover themselves in black robes. This is not freedom or tolerance; it is paedophilia, oppression, and slavery.

According to the Guardian, ISIS militants trade women like slaves:

They sold Amsha for $12. Other girls and women went for more, much more. But Amsha had a small son and was pregnant with her second child. She had already seen Islamic State (Isis) militants execute her husband in front of her. Now the terror of that crime and the fear of captivity was to be replaced by the indignity and humiliation of being traded like cattle.

Islamic extremists condone and encourage violence against those with different religious views. They beheaded 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians late last year for no other reason than the fact they were Christian. If Islamic extremists want the right to live according their religious values then they must allow others to do the same. Religious values that condone exterminating everyone else whose religious values differ are incompatible with Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which says:

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Freedom to have a religion does not imply freedom to exterminate everyone else who has a different religion. Article 29 of the declaration states:

In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.

Thomas Paine once said, “He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.

The human race has come so far in terms of tolerance of others and women’s rights which makes the rise of ISIS and the presence of women in my society who support this type of violence and oppression all the more disturbing. It was more than 200 years ago when Mary Wollstonecraft said, “Strengthen the female mind by enlarging it, and there will be an end to blind obedience.

She would be appalled to see women and girls in our society, who are the beneficiaries of her ideas, willingly give up their freedom and instead choose violence, oppression, slavery, and “blind obedience”.


Snowdrops in my garden and the Christchurch earthquake

The days are getting noticeably longer again. It seems to change very quickly from light to dark as winter sets in and then from dark to light again as winter draws to a close. Last November, the days grew shorter surprisingly quickly. You could see the difference from one day to the next. Now, in February, the sun is setting later and later and it seems to change very quickly. Today the sun will set at 5:26pm whereas just before Christmas last year, it was more like 3:30pm. That’s remarkable.

Signs of the end of winter are present in our garden too where we have a carpet of snowdrops blossoming. They’re beautiful.

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It hasn’t been very cold here and I haven’t seen ice or snow since our weekend in Aviemore. The days have been quite sunny too. Aberdeen is a very sunny part of the UK. I wasn’t expecting this at all and although I’m not a sun person, the British sun is fine since it doesn’t burn my skin.

It’s the fourth anniversary of the February 22nd Christchurch earthquake tomorrow. As testimony to how far I’ve moved on from this, I completely forgot about it and was only reminded of it when reading the New Zealand news site, stuff.co.nz, late last night. If the earthquake had never happened, I may not have moved to Scotland, I probably wouldn’t have started blogging, and may never have started working for Automattic in a job I enjoy immensely. It’s strange how something so awful could be the reason for some wonderful changes in my life. But I guess there might have been other wonderful things happen had the earthquake not occurred. I’ll just never know.

There’s a good article in Stuff, The Trapped: Where are they now?, which I found moving. For the rest of the world the earthquake was an event in the past and has long been forgotten. But this article makes clear that for the people still in Christchurch and for those more severely affected, the disaster is ongoing.


What is freedom of speech?

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the idea of freedom of speech and freedom of expression this week and what it means exactly. It’s not something I’ve thought a great deal about in the past because I’ve always felt I had the freedom to express my thoughts, which I quite frequently do, and I’m very grateful for this. It’s nice to live in a society that allows us to express our ideas, no matter how whacky they may be. But are there limits?

I wrote a post a little while ago about how I never take anything to extremes: All or nothing? A better way to phrase it, unless I’ve misunderstood this term, is that I reject absolutism. This is the idea that values and principles are absolute and not relative or dependent on other factors. I can see that free speech falls into this category. My right to free speech stops at the point where my actions do or could potentially violate the rights of someone else. Peter Singer, in defending someone’s right to deny the Holocaust and ridicule religion, says:

Laws against incitement to racial, religious, or ethnic hatred, in circumstances where that incitement is intended to – or can reasonably be foreseen to – lead to violence or other criminal acts, are different, and are compatible with maintaining freedom to express any views at all.

John Stuart Mill, author of On Liberty, supports this view when he says:

All that makes existence valuable to anyone depends on the enforcement of restraints upon the actions of other people. Some rules of conduct, therefore, must be imposed—by law in the first place, and by opinion on many things which are not fit subjects for the operation of law. (1978, 5)

and

the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. (1978, 9)

The two John Stuart Mill quotes have been copied from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Freedom of Speech which is very good reading. The difficult question now becomes: in what situations is it acceptable to limit free speech? John Stuart Mill provides an example. He says it’s fine to write an opinion article in the press claiming that corn-dealers “are starvers of the poor” but it’s not ok to say the same thing to an excited mob in front of the home of a corn dealer. The Stanford article calls this Mill’s Harm Principle and I largely agree with it.

The Stanford article then goes on to describe the offence principle as a limit to free speech and I must admit I don’t have much support for this. It’s my experience that people play the “I find it offensive” card as a way to manipulate and restrict the rights of others. I also can’t think of any examples where “offense” could be a legitimate reason to restrict freedom of speech because it would also mean we couldn’t criticise and ridicule religions and I think it’s important that we’re free to deny the existence of God or to publish cartoons about Catholicism or Islam.

This post was partly motivated by an article I read recently on Wired called, The laborers who keep dick pics and beheadings out of your Facebook feed. Apparently there is an army of workers in the Philippines whose job is to remove objectionable material from Twitter and Facebook. The article isn’t about freedom of speech; it’s about the mental toll of spending day after day witnessing the astonishing breadth and reach of human depravity. I don’t classify content removal like this as a restriction on freedom of speech or expression. Videos of beheadings will still be available on news sites on the web. Other things, like child pornography, ought to be removed and I don’t think anyone could argue with this given the harm they cause to children.

This morning, as I was pondering all of this, I asked Elizabeth whether we should be allowed to say whatever we want. Here’s what she said:

Elizabeth: Yes
Me: What if you want to say something mean?
Elizabeth: I wouldn’t say anything mean.
Me: What do you think would be something mean to say?
Elizabeth: You’re a stupid bum. That’s the meanest thing you can say.


How English should be written

Elizabeth’s teacher must have suggested to the class that they make a card for their mothers for “Valemtine’s” (as Elizabeth pronounces it) Day because she worked very hard yesterday afternoon and this morning creating a card for me. Here’s the result:

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It says:

“Deyr Mum we luv yoo we are gowing to get a flowa aftr lush.”

Translation: Dear Mum, we love you. We are going to get a flower after lunch.

Elizabeth has been at school for just over 3 months of her little life and she had no help with this card. I’m really impressed! I love how she spelt the words as they sound.

In Britain, children learn to read by phonics. This means that rather than saying the names of the letters when they learn them, they have to say the sound they make instead. I can see how useful this is and the result here is that Elizabeth is confident taking a stab at spelling out words based on how they sound. Daniel did not learn to read using this method because it isn’t done in New Zealand or Australia and he still really struggles to sound out a word. It’s difficult to judge whether phonics would have made a big difference for him because his autism might also play a part. But I did stumble across an article in The Conversation recently about how teaching to read by phonics is much more effective.

In his internationally acclaimed analysis of the effectiveness of teaching methods, Professor John Hattie assigns “effect sizes” ranging from 1.44 (highly effective) to -0.34 (harmful). Effect sizes above 0.4 indicate methods worth serious attention.

There are two main schools of thought about how to teach children to read and write, one focused on meaning (whole language) and one focused on word structure (phonics). Hattie’s meta-analysis gives whole language an effect size of 0.06, and phonics an effect size of 0.54.

Happy Valemtine’s Day!



Jane Austen and Gretna Green

I hate my wedding photos. More specifically, I hate me in the photos. Everyone else looks terrific and the photos themselves are wonderful. It’s just me. I was 7 months pregnant when Ben and I got married and I was fat. I put on 17kg during my pregnancy with Daniel which is rather a lot. I also paid someone to do my hair and makeup and she didn’t do a very good job and now I cringe when I see myself in those photos. And lastly, the New Zealand sun is so bright, way too bright, and I’m squinting in all the outdoor photos. I also got sunburnt that day. Damn sun.

So for a little while now I’ve been hatching a crazy plan to redo our wedding photos. You know, before I get too many more grey hairs and wrinkles. I know this is really dumb and shallow but hear me out; there’s more to it. My plan involves running off to Gretna Green to renew our vows. I am a big Jane Austen fan and Gretna Green has always been a fascinating place for me. As a 14-year-old I fell in love with Mr Darcy. I never had any boyfriends at school, and let’s face it, how many 14-year-old boys can compete with Mr Darcy? Then I read every Jane Austen book I could get my hands on and Gretna Green features in lots of them. This is where young couples elope.

In the 18th Century, couples in England couldn’t get married until the age of 21 unless they had their parents’ permission. In Scotland, however, couples could marry without their parents’ permission from the age of 16. This led to young couples in England running off to Scotland to be married and Gretna Green was the first village past the border. So when the 16-year-old Lydia disappeared with Mr Wickham in Pride and Prejudice, Lydia’s family naturally hoped they had gone to Gretna Green. But alas they had not.

We had friends and family around us when we were married and that was wonderful and I’ll always remember it. Now I just want some nice photos. This time it’ll just be the four of us (Me, Ben, Daniel, Elizabeth) and a Highland Coo or two. images


Pocket money and pedal power

Elizabeth wants to earn some pocket money so I told her that if she did some jobs around the house we’d give her some money. I suggested that she make her bed and tidy the bedroom so she disappeared for a little while and then came back and said:

Elizabeth: Mum, I made my bed, I made Daniel’s bed and I put the toys away.
Me: That’s terrific. How much do you think you should get for that?
Elizabeth: Well, it was quite a big job so I think 20p.
Wow, she’s cheap!
Me: I’ll tell you what, if you put the toys away in the lounge room as well I’ll give you five of those which will be one whole pound.

She thought this was a good deal and she went off to tidy the lounge. I’m not sure whether it’s good management, good genes, or just good luck, but we’ve somehow ended up a child who wants to help around the house AND likes doing her homework. How can this be?

I discovered something interesting about the University of Aberdeen.  All senior management expenses are disclosed on their website here:

http://www.abdn.ac.uk/about/management/senior-management-expenses-84.php

I think this kind of transparency is fantastic and there should be more of it.

Aberdeen University Students’ Association are putting on a pedal-powered screening of Voices of Transition. I’ve never heard of it but I like the idea of riding a bicycle and watching a film at the same time. It’ll happen on the 12th of February – they haven’t said what time – at the University of Aberdeen.


The Life You Can Save

Whenever I find myself debating right and wrong, I wonder what Peter Singer would say. He’s the most rational thinker on the planet, in my opinion, and so I will sometimes say to myself, “What would Peter Singer do in this situation?”.

For those who’ve never heard of him, he’s an Australian philosopher, the Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton, author of a number of famous books including Animal Liberation and Practical Ethics, and he likes surfing.

Although he’s not the reason I became a plant-eater, he’s the reason I’ve stuck with it. He argues that the fact that animals do not belong to the same species as us is not a valid reason to give less consideration to their interests. Another way to put it is if you accept that sex and race are not rational reasons for giving less consideration to the interests of others, then the same argument applies to those of a different species.

It is so entrenched in our culture to treat animals as objects that it will take a long time to change this. British author and feminist Mary Wollstonecraft wrote her book, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, in 1792. It was a couple of centuries before her vision became reality and women were not treated as poorly back then as animals are today.

But this post wasn’t really meant to be about animals. Peter Singer is an ethicist so he writes about many things including topics like stem cell research, abortion, paying ransom to terrorists, and also charity. I’ve been wanting to share this video for quite some time. It’s an animation of an argument he has made about a drowning child in a pond and is the thinking behind an organistion he founded called The Life You Can Save.


Fabricating data

No, this post is not about climate scientists fabricating data to make it look like the earth is warming because they’re not and the earth really is warming. This post is about Daniel’s science homework. He had to perform an experiment which involved observing the difference between evaporation in a sunny spot and evaporation in a shady spot. It seemed to me like a dumb time of year to perform this experiment as nothing much is evaporating outside at all just now. Then there’s the problem of finding some sunlight as the sun goes down not long after we get home from school.

Last week I was stressing about how we were going to do this since we had the weekend trip to Aviemore planned. I wasn’t keen to take science homework with us on our weekend away. So I did a very bad thing and fabricated the results! I explained to Daniel what would happen and told him what to draw and write. Yes, I’m a bad parent. Then I told him not to tell his teacher.

Today he came home with the science book and his teacher has written in it, “Daniel, you were supposed to do the wobbly jelly activity”. Damn! At what age do kids start taking responsibility for their own homework?


Chains for shoes and Trotify

A shop in Aviemore was selling chains for shoes to increase the friction on icy pavements. We bought a couple of pairs and they’re fantastic. Why doesn’t everyone have these? They slip onto the soles of your shoes and make a huge difference. No more slipping over for me.

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Here’s another must-have product: Trotify. I’m going to ask Santa for one of these next Christmas.

Then Busby and I can really go galloping into the distance.


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Cairngorm Mountain, Aviemore

We awoke today to the loveliest day I’ve ever seen. It snowed overnight, so there was a fresh coating of the powdery stuff everywhere, and then the sun came out and the whole world seemed to sparkle. We managed to get up to Cairngorm Mountain but only just as they didn’t open the road until 11am. This meant we didn’t have enough time to take the funicular railway all the way to the top as we had a train to catch. But we did get to sample the view from the base station and it was splendid.

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That’s Loch Morlich you can see in the distance.

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Here’s a close-up.

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I farted just as Ben took this next photo.

IMG_9239Ben was so excited he didn’t want to be photographed so I got to pose to my heart’s content.

IMG_9247Loch Morlich is a gorgeous, gorgeous place.

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We played in the snow some more.

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Then we had to dash to catch our train. We grabbed lunch at Aviemore station at a place called Roos Leap.

IMG_9253I’m not quite sure what a down-under dining experience is exactly but they had lots of kitsch Australian things inside. It was funny to find a place like this in the middle of the Scottish Highlands. Dunny is an Australian word for toilet by the way.

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Australian beaches are the best in the world.IMG_9262Aviemore train station was very lovely.

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As were the views from the train.

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I loved Aviemore and I’m sure it will be a holiday destination for us many more times in the years to come. We barely touched the surface of all the things there are to see and do there. This weekend was really for Daniel’s birthday; he turned 8 last Friday. We don’t know very many people in Aberdeen yet and I’m not sure sure that I have the time and energy to organise a children’s birthday party at the moment anyway, so we chose a family weekend away instead. We stayed at the Coylumbridge Resort which is just outside Aviemore and really well set up for children. They have a swimming pool, a fun house with a large indoor playground, a dry ski slope (although oddly it was closed due to snow), a skating rink (only synthetic though, so not that great), a tubing ramp, a climbing wall, and various organised activities for kids. Kids also get to stay and eat for free provided, of course, that they are with a paying adult. In fact, when we arrived shortly after 9pm on Friday night, the lobby was filled with young children all boogying to YMCA. It was a great place to go with young kids. We’d stay there again.


Aviemore, Scotland

Snows transforms the outside into one giant playground. Every hill becomes a slippery slide, every twig a potential arm for a snowman, and every flake of snow a potential snowball for tossing at loved ones. Kids love it, I love it.

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My long suffering husband doesn’t love it quite so much.

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Walking around is like wandering through an art gallery filled with splendid paintings to admire and lift the spirits – although this bit might have been more uplifting had we not had small children whingeing constantly about having to walk. Children these days are so spoilt: they expect to be warm, driven everywhere, and fed three times a day. Imagine that! And if they get any snow inside their boots, we end up suffering as much as they do, if not more.

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And there’s such fun to be had no matter how old you are.

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I’m balancing a giant snowball on my arm in this next one.

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Oh wait, no I’m not.

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It has been snowing so much today that they had to close Cairngorm Mountain and so we didn’t get to go up there, but it didn’t matter. There was plenty to see and do in the village and at the place we’re staying. Now it’s time for a nana nap.

 

 


The train to Aviemore

We’re spending the weekend in Aviemore in the Cairngorms and I’m writing this from the train. Oh, how I love trains, even all the bad things like when the people sitting nearby seem to fart the whole way or when a group of rowdy youths gets on stinking of cigarettes or when you go to the toilet and after finishing the task, smother your hands in soap from the soap dispenser only to discover there’s no water to wash it off with. It’s all part of the adventure.

We always reserve seats. Our seats were in coach B so when the train arrived we got on coach B. But our seats were not in coach B. Someone told us there was a second coach B and a third coach B and maybe even a fourth so we walked through three carriages until we reached a dead-end. Somewhere in Scotland are four trains all missing coach B because our train stole them all. The sequence of coaches was D,B,A,B,B,B.

The dead-end was mid-train but the only way to get through to the coach on the other side was to climb out a window, crawl along the roof and then back in through a window in the next coach. We decided not to do this. Another option was to wait for the next station, get off, walk around to coach B then get back on again. The third option was to sit in the vacant seats in first class. And this is exactly what we did :) Fortunately the nice conductor must have understood the difficulty we faced and let us stay there.

A couple of hours later and the kids have watched “Spiderman” and Ben and I haven’t had to do any driving. It’s marvellous. We’re nearly there and hoping to see some snow, which is highly likely given it has been snowing for much of the day in Aviemore.


Winchester “hit” by earthquake

I wonder whether Vinny reads my blog? Vinny, if you’re reading this, I’m about to mock the Guardian for an article they’ve published. Feel free to wade in :)

An article in the Guardian today has the headline, Winchester hit by earthquake of 2.9 magnitude. My heart goes out to the people of Hampshire. It must have been a harrowing experience and I’m sure there’s some work to do:

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At the bottom of the article is a quote from a police spokesman, “If we find out what it was, we’ll let you know.” Maybe it was Kim Dotcom. Has he moved to Winchester? Ok, I realise it’s a bit mean of me to make fun of someone’s size but I only thought to do it because Kim Dotcom does it himself:

Places don’t get “hit” by 2.9 magnitude earthquakes. It’s like saying “ant stamped on human foot”. More appropriate would be something like “minor shake takes people on Winchester by surprise” or “tiny earthquake felt in Winchester” but perhaps these don’t sound quite as exciting.

New Zealand is “hit” by magnitude 2-3 earthquakes every single day and they never make headline news.  Here’s a list of quakes in New Zealand in the past 24 hours taken from the GeoNet website.

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If anything though, the Guardian article is very reassuring for me because earthquakes must be very rare indeed if they feel the need to put a 2.9 quake on the front page.


Sometimes our kids surprise us

Daniel is an unusual child. When he was little he was terrified of small children even, on occasion, to the point of screaming whenever they were around. This made life rather lonely for me at times since most of my friends also had small children. I used to draw story boards of the activities we had planned for the day and the trips we were intending to make, if any, and this helped quite a bit. I had a book of photographs of the other children we knew and showed it to him regularly.

He’s fantastic socially now and very popular at school, no doubt because he has a very cheery disposition. Most people don’t even realise he’s on the autistic spectrum and my life has become very easy by comparison. But there are some things he really struggles with. Spelling, for instance, and memorising Robert Burns :) Here’s an example of a recent conversation I had with him:

Me: Spell “group”
Daniel: g-r-o-n?
Me: No, the next letter is a vowel and the vowels are a-e-i-o-u. Which one do you think it is?
Daniel: y?

Repeat this three times in the one conversation. I feel like banging my head on the ground at times like this and probably get more frustrated with him than I should. It feels a bit like this:

Except that Daniel is really good at maths. He just struggles with writing and spelling.

This afternoon as I was cycling home from school Daniel asked me what water is made of to which I replied hydrogen and oxygen. Then he said, but if hydrogen and oxygen float, how come water sinks? WTF? Sometimes they surprise us.


A new word: Reducetarian

I just watched an interesting TedX talk about the negative connotations behind the words vegan and vegetarian. Tell a stranger you’re a vegan and they make all sorts of negative assumptions about you. This is why I prefer to call myself a plant-eater. A friend of mine once told me that when they first found out I didn’t eat meat they assumed I was a home-birthing hippie. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I’m a big fan of hospitals and epidurals when it comes to child birth and I’m not exactly a hippie. Other people probably turn away in fear when they hear the v-word. Maybe they’re terrified I’ll give them a lecture? Or that I’m so hungry and undernourished I might try to bite chunks of flesh from their limbs?

I’m not a strict vegan. If someone offers me tea with milk I’d probably drink it. I don’t like the taste of diary products though, having grown accustomed to soy milk now. I gave up meat and diary 10 years ago. I continued eating eggs initially because I had my own hens – Henrietta, Heather, and Hazel – and they were well-treated by me and so I saw no reason not to continue eating their eggs. I don’t eat eggs any more but I know I’ve probably ingested them over the years because I will eat cakes and desserts when I’m out or at someone’s place and I never bother to ask if they’re egg- and dairy-free. But I do all my own baking at home without these ingredients and it’s pretty easy. I also find it harder to be vegan when I travel and usually end up consuming meals with cheese, although if I had the choice not to, I would. However, I’d never starve for my beliefs.

I would eat insects if I had the opportunity and I don’t really have any ethical objections to eating shellfish, so I would probably eat shellfish if I liked the taste (which I don’t). However, there are good environmental reasons for avoiding seafood. I’m in very good health too. My weight has remained pretty much the same for 20-odd years now. All my vital signs are good. I don’t take any medication for anything and rarely go to a doctor. My only ailment is a monthly migraine. I think that on the whole, veganism has been very good for my health.

I do eat honey and I do crochet with wool so strict vegans would not call me vegan for these reasons alone. Perhaps this is why I prefer to call myself a plant-eater. The problem with having exclusive words like this is that they can be alienating. Someone may be motivated to become a vegan but the impossibility of all the “rules” makes it seem undoable and they give up.

Here’s where reducetarian comes in. Brian Kateman has come up with a new word to describe someone who wants to make a commitment to reducing their consumption of animals without promising complete abstinence – and let’s face it, any reduction in meat consumption by humans is a worthy goal. After all, the livestock sector is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire transport sector; and that includes all cars, trucks, buses, planes, trains, and ships.


Keeping abreast of page 3

I’ve been so busy recently that I don’t get to read the news very often and I’ve missed all the media discussion about The Sun and page 3. I’m always keen to talk about breasts, as my readers probably know, so naturally I thought I should add my two cents.

To be honest, I don’t feel strongly either way. I don’t mind if The Sun wants to put naked women on page 3 of its newspaper. It’s a bit tacky but I never read it anyway and I don’t think there’s anything unpleasant or indecent about breasts. Maybe they could provide some balance by having a naked man one week and a naked woman the other?

What I do find irritating is the people who defend page 3 are quite often the same ones who object to women breastfeeding in public. I do feel very strongly that women should be free to breastfeed wherever they want. It’s indefensible to make a woman feel uncomfortable, unwelcome, or indecent for feeding her baby. I get very worked up when I read comments from people objecting to this. But often these same people, who claim to be offended by an exposed nipple, will then champion the right of a newspaper to publish an exposed nipple. Am I the only one who sees the glaring inconsistency here? At least feminists have some reasoning behind their argument when they say page 3 objectifies women and they of course do advocate for the right of a mother to breastfeed her baby in public.

Although I have to say I don’t really understand the “objectification” argument. It doesn’t seem that way to me and it does feel a little like we want to deny that humans have sexual desires or deny that sex is a pervasive part of our existence, which it is. Perhaps the problem is just that it’s one-sided. Our society seems to think that men are the only ones with sexual desires and women are prim and proper creatures without these animal instincts. This is wrong of course but we’re a bit slow to acknowledge it as a society. Apparently in Japan female-friendly erotica is taking off.

So it seems to me that on one side we have a group of people who say a breastfeeding nipple is ok while a sexy nipple is not ok; and on the other side is a group who say a breastfeeding nipple is not ok, while a sexy nipple is ok. The function the breast is performing at the time seems to be important to both groups but I personally think it’s irrelevant. They’re both fine as far as I’m concerned but within reason of course. If we plastered nipples all over the place then they might lose some of their appeal and we wouldn’t want that.

On the theme of nudity, I also read that Instagram censored photographs of women in bathers because a bit of pubic hair was visible. How ridiculous! One of the most popular posts on my blog is one I published in 2013, Bushy beaver or prebuscent pube? My sentiments on the topic haven’t changed much since then. Most people find this old post of mine by searching Google. I can see the search engine terms they used to get to it and in the last seven days they were: hairy pubes, i have bushy pubes, bushy beaver, beavers shaved, bushy pubes female. What a strange species we are.


Exercise makes you smarter and Robert Burns

I wasn’t thinking very clearly last week and I did a lot of dumb things. I blame a lack of physical activity. Busby was out of action for a few days due to frozen brakes and when I did go out for a bike ride I had to cycle very slowly because of the ice. Yesterday it all melted and I not only went running, I also went for an exhilarating cycle ride with a full load (two children) when we went into town for dinner last night. I raced up the hills and flew down the other side and it felt terrific. It’s great to be able to go out for dinner and eat a huge meal but then cycle home afterwards and put some of that peak in blood-sugar to good use. I’m very fortunate to be able to live somewhere where we can cycle to and from the centre of town.

Physical activity improves brain function in areas like memory, planning, scheduling, and inhibition. It also helps to prevent cognitive decline as we age and improve academic performance in children. This is in addition to all the physical benefits we get from exercise.

Last Friday afternoon I went to unlock my bicycle to collect the kids from school and I couldn’t find the key. I hadn’t used the bike for a couple of days and it turns out I had left the key in the lock: practically an invitation for someone to come and take Busby. Although one of my friends here pointed out that everyone in Aberdeen knows that Busby belongs to me now so it would be silly for anyone to try to steal him. Then as I was cycling to school and laughing at myself for being so careless I realised that I cycled off without locking the front door of our house. Not only had I not locked the door, I hadn’t even shut it! Thank goodness Aberdeen is such a safe place. Or so it feels anyway.

Today is Burns Night in Scotland: an annual celebration of Robert Burns. Daniel had to learn a Robert Burns poem off by heart to recite to the class. We had to rip all of Daniel’s teeth out of his mouth to get him to learn just the first two verses and gave up after that. Then Friday afternoon he came home with this note:

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Ben and I were like:

I asked Daniel how he managed to recite the last two verses when he hadn’t learnt them? He said that some of the other kids went before him and so he remembered what they said. Well if it was that easy …..

Elizabeth on the other hand is a model student at home and *wants* to do homework. After reading her reader to me the other night she asked to read it again. I initially said no because parents are supposed to say no, right? Wait! I realised my error and let her read it again :) Then this morning she got up and hopped into our bed and began discussing negative numbers. She’s five for goodness sake and it was Sunday morning. This is not normal. I blame the father.

In celebration of Robert Burns, I give you A Red, Red Rose.

A Red, Red Rose

O my Luve is like a red, red rose
That’s newly sprung in June;
O my Luve is like the melody
That’s sweetly played in tune.

So fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
So deep in luve am I;
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a’ the seas gang dry.

Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi’ the sun;
I will love thee still, my dear,
While the sands o’ life shall run.

And fare thee weel, my only luve!
And fare thee weel awhile!
And I will come again, my luve,
Though it were ten thousand mile.

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And lastly, the lake at Duthie Park yesterday looked like this:

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