My daughter has a lovely wee friend and whenever they’re together I get these great photos of them, that in my opinion really encapsulate what childhood should be about…. lots of giggles, dancing, jumping and whispered secrets.
My daughter has a lovely wee friend and whenever they’re together I get these great photos of them, that in my opinion really encapsulate what childhood should be about…. lots of giggles, dancing, jumping and whispered secrets.
Just thought I’d do an apologetic post to explain my lack of blogging recently. Unfortunately life is getting in the way of my travel writing aspirations as I’m back completing my final year of University. As my followers will know, finishing my degree is number one on the list of things to do in order to achieve my goal of travelling the world with my little girl. So I hope you’ll be patient and continue to follow my blog even though the volume of posts may dip somewhat over the coming months. Single parenthood and university are a bit unforgiving when it comes to the pleasures in life like writing away on WordPress. I’ve also just started working for my favourite local charity so that has swallowed a bit more of my time leaving even less for writing. However, it will definitely all be worth it in a few months when I stand in the famous Bute Halls and graduate!
As soon as I get some guilt free time to sit and do some travel writing (so time I shouldn’t be spending writing my dissertation, reading up on contemporary ethics or doing the housework!) I’ve got some lovely posts planned. I recently went to see the stunning fairy sculptures at Trentham Gardens near Stoke On Trent so I have some great info on that and also on the fabulous Monkey Forest just next door. This is a smaller version of Monkey World in Dorset but it’s a great family day out in that area. I also have a ‘past travels’ post planned on a visit to Australia that happened a long time ago now. Although it was really the first ‘proper’ trip I ever took so it’s definitely a landmark in my travelling life!
Anyway, I just wanted to say thank you to all the people who read my blog and have supported me this far in my dreams. Watch this space for a post very soon featuring some utterly gorgeous fairy sculptures :)
For a quick explanation – here’s the writing 101 task I was set today and below is my submission: http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_assignment/writing-101-setting/
I’m 8 years old and after a year long specialised project (infiltrating all the different subjects) at school, I find myself completely and utterly engrossed/obsessed with all things related to the Amazon rainforest. I write an extremely long fictionalised story about a girl and her family, which is partly inspired by a school play we did about the Yanomamo. This year when I was 8 has given me an endless love of the Amazon and insatiable need to go there.
So this is where I’m transported to, although it’s the view I have of the Amazon as an extremely imaginative child. It’s probably melded with films and cartoons from around that time too, so ‘Ferngully – The Last Rainforest’ has undoubtedly had an influence on how I imagined the Amazon to be in my story. As I close my eyes and picture the scene, I’m engulfed with the smells and aromas. A fresh grass type smell mixed with the heady scent of exotic and unknown flowers. My Amazon is a naïve place; filled with the wonderment only a child can create. It has dazzling blue rivers that don’t actually exist in reality, at these rivers young naked children fish with spears, taught by their elders. There are trees too tall to see the tops, trees that are alive and view the world from their lofty heights. No doubt looking on with derision and disgust – I think the poisonous tree featured in Ferngully is a metaphor for the havoc we wreak on all of nature that surrounds us; it oozes out all the evil and disgusting things we create as humans who care not for the world around us.
On a side note, I know everyone said the film Avatar was a parody of the story of Pocahontas but more accurately it was a total rip off of Ferngully!
The forest in my child mind is akin to the forests and woods from the Enid Blyton books ‘The Enchanted Wood” – they have mysterious lands at their invisible tops that transport you to either excitement or danger. I think this is how I pictured the Amazon, although I mixed it in with all the things I’d seen and read in books. Somehow creating a magical place of unbelievable depths that may or may not come close to the reality. My cynical adult mind tells me that the place I created could never be matched up by reality, but then the adventurous child that still lives within tells me that there is nothing more beautiful, amazing and wondrous than what is already here on Earth.
Back in the Amazon…. I’m hit by the freshness that’s juxtaposed with intense humidity creating an environment that is heavy and at the same time light enough to bear. It’s hot and damp but not to the point you couldn’t acclimatise to it. The rain provides relief in the day and the cover of trees can be so thick it becomes dark, cold and occasionally frightening. If alone in the rainforest it’s not long before your mind and consciousness start to become one with the living being that is the Amazon. I see the Amazon as one giant living, breathing entity. It’s not a series of parts and should only be view as a whole. Once you’re in the thick of it you also become part of that entity. It’s your life force, oxygen, food, shelter, and comfort. But it’s also the source of danger, death and destruction. Although all of our environments are like this, I imagine that none more so than the rainforest. Nothing could make you so aware you are directly dependent on it than the forest, or so aware it can take it away in a second. The idealistic part of me would like to think that in response to this humans learn to live alongside the forest and also alongside one another – as it is only with co-operation and compassion we can thrive in such an environment. The humans in my story co-existed with strength and unity – I suspect that those living in the Amazon also would too if only they weren’t pressured with the evils that the rest of the world forces on them. Cocaine production, destruction of the forest, total environmental rape for resources and medicinal goods is what makes the factions rise up and pit themselves against one another. Without all that, I have a feeling life would be more similar to the life my 8 year old self created.
When I visit Manaus with my little monkey in a couple of years time as part of our RTW trip, I can only hope it matches up even 5% to the world I have imagined. I will only be touching the tip of it too, as with a 4 year old I will have to adjust how much we explore and what we are able to do. There is nowhere else on earth though that I want to see and explore more than the Amazon and it all stems from that year long project at school. When I’m older I would love to properly do a much lengthier trek, but until then a tourist trip to Manaus will definitely keep me happy. As with any child memory or imagining of a place my thoughts and feelings of the Amazon are slightly fractured, incomplete, as if my naïve mind couldn’t fully comprehend the shear size and scale of the forest. I am looking forward to completing my imagination and having some solid memories to hold onto for the rest of my life.
Last Thursday I passed my driving theory test. Those of you residing in the UK will know that this is the 1st major hurdle to actually gaining a full UK driving licence. Once this is done you’re kind of home and dry in regards to getting your proper test booked and getting the pass certificate. Of course you need to learn to drive but hopefully you’ll have already been doing this.
I thought I’d do a little post on my hints and tips for getting this one under your belt. Everyone who has passed it will tell you how easy it is, but actually quite a few fail it (and not just once)! I think the test is relatively easy, but only if you do some work and practice the hazard perception section online. The best advice that I received was to NOT rely simply on the mock tests that are available all over the place and the apps for smart phones. I think this definitely stands as helpful advice. I had access to an online learning tool via my instructor, this had practice questions from all the sections, it had mock test, highway code practice and hazard perception videos. I found the only really useful thing was the mock test bit, but only after I had bought the proper DVLA book and worked my through all the multiple choice questions. This is an absolute must. The book seems really thick which is a bit off putting, but in reality I was able to work through the 15 sections in a week. It has all the multiple choice questions in it and the answers are at the back. there are also clues next to each of the questions. I basically went through this with a pencil and did all the questions whilst checking the answers in the back. I’ve got a pretty good memory so I went through it once and then did a load of mock tests. I was passing all the mock tests with between 48 and 50 out of 50. The pass mark is 43 so I was pretty happy that I was up to standard.
If you struggle with memory tasks I would give yourself a month instead of a week and go through the book a few times. I good way to look at the test is that about 70% of the questions are genuinely common sense knowledge and about 30% are questions that you either know the answer or you don’t. Once you’ve identified this 30%, you can focus your memorising energy here. When I say common sense it really is questions like: “If you are at a crossing and an elderly person is taking more time to cross the road, should you – a) rev your engine and press you horn, b) speed round them whilst gesturing or c) wait patiently for them to cross the road.
Doing the mock tests will identify any problem sections you have and allow you to focus for longer on these if you need to. The really annoying part of the test is the hazard perception section. This test is really not a test of anything except your ability to pass this test. However, you do need to pass it and it’s worth practicing. I found the AA driving school online practice was the best quality videos and also the closest match to the real thing. You can find that here: http://www.theaa.com/aattitude/games/hpt.jsp
The instructions (even on the practice tests are ambiguous). It tells you to click every single time you see a potential hazard (parked cars, pedestrians etc) but that it will only mark you for one major hazard that develops fully in each video apart from one video where there will be 2 hazards. The crunch is that if you click too much it will tell you that you did the test inappropriately for that video and you will get nothing. There are 15 videos and they are marked out of 5 each. The hazard that you are being marked on is always obvious; something like a horse rider you have to pass, a car on a narrow bridge or kids playing on the road or a cyclist that rides in front of you. You are given a 5 second window in which to click the mouse and register that you have seen the hazard. If you click at the start of this window you get the full 5 marks and lose a mark for every second that passes. What I found really silly and frustrating was that I realised on the practice tests that I was seeing the hazard sooner than they wanted me to, so I’d click but it would be 1 or 2 seconds too soon and I would receive no marks as it would tell me I had missed the hazard when I knew full well I hadn’t. So I developed a technique where whenever I saw a hazard I would click the mouse about 3 or 4 times in a row – guessing that at least one of the clicks would register in the window they wanted you to click in. I also didn’t click on the smaller potential hazards so as not to risk ‘clicking inappropriately’ and getting zero marks. There is a potential 75 marks up for grabs. I passed with 60 so got an average of 4 per video so I think my technique worked well. But it’s stupid in my opinion and is nothing other than a test of how to pass their test. It has given me no knowledge on how to avoid hazards on the road, as obviously learning to drive means you already know that a horse rider is a hazard and you must drive slowly, or that an old lady crossing the road means you need to slow down and allow her to pass. The whole thing is a ridiculous palaver.
The actual theory test is useful though, and it has also improved my driving. Particularly the road sign knowledge and vehicle safety etc. I wish I’d sat the test sooner in the course of my lessons as it has been useful. So my advice would be to book it within a month of your first lesson. I passed with 48/50 and I would say I did minimal but enough revision for my own learning and memory style. Being at university and studying for exams means I have good knowledge of my own learning style and how quickly I pick up new information. If you struggle to retain this kind of thing, as I said, I give yourself a full month to revise. I gave myself a full week, working every night through the book and doing mock tests.
My driving instructor has told me I’m ready to put in for my test now – it takes about 6-8 weeks to get a test here so she means that in the period of time I’ll have ironed out all of the little glitches I need to in order to pass. I”m confidant on the roads now and it really i just a case of practising. A lot of it is getting to know the junctions and area the test is done in, as a lack of local knowledge can really throw you when it comes to getting in the right lane at a busy junction or similar situations to this. My opinion is that gaining a 1st time pass will depend on nerves as if they get the better of you then you’ll make silly mistakes you wouldn’t do normally. It also has a bit to do with luck on the day though, I’ve had a stupid lorry driver pull out on me really fast whilst trying to join the expressway – what this meant was I didn’t have the time to join the carriageway and had to slow down before getting over and this held up the traffic behind me. I’d have failed if this was my test day, but really it’s was just bad luck. In real life there would have been no harm done but my instructor said in a test situation they would have expected me to have built up enough speed to get out in front of him. I just didn’t have the guts to do the manoeuvre due to lack of experience. So if you see a learner driver and they’re annoying you or making you impatient just please remember that they could be taking their test, and you pulling out in front of them or beeping and gesturing at them when they stall or cutting them up could actually jar their nerves enough that they fail their test. We’re annoying us learners, I know that, especially if you’re in a rush – but you’ve all been there and it’s worth remembering how nervous you felt when you did it. It might give you the patience you need to just let us get on with it, as really it’s only going to take a few extra minutes out of your day. :)
Anyway, I’m very much looking forward to finally being a driver, life will be so much easier, especially with a child , to just load up the car and go off for day trips around the UK. I can’t wait, so watch this space and hopefully there’ll be another post soon telling you I’ve completed the proper test and passed it!!
The last few months have been a massive change emotionally for me. After deciding to step out on this path of travelling and working abroad I’ve really had to take stock and it’s had a big effect on my thoughts and feelings surrounding what I want for myself and my daughter. I think in a way, entering into the final year of my degree or even just coming back to university after giving birth, has been the biggest catalyst to all this emotional change.
If you’ve had kids then you may have had a similar experience to me, where during the pregnancy and straight after the birth it’s not really possible to really know what you want. I was pretty scared and a lot of things were going on that were outside of my control. I just didn’t know what I wanted pure and simple. I knew what I had wanted in the past intellectually speaking, but it was put on hold in a strange way that I’ve never experienced before. There was an unknown entity on the way and I was really conscious that the minute they came into being and ventured into the outside world things would change – I don’t mean in the obvious ways, I mean more in the sense that there would be a person who would eventually have thoughts and opinions that would change the decisions I was going to make. This mentally put me in some sort of freeze hold and I just couldn’t conceive of much beyond the birth. Even after she was born I spent the usual few weeks recovering and acting like a hormonal wreck and then I started to focus on getting back to university.
It was at this point that I really started to ask myself what I wanted, I found myself caving in to those invisible societal pressures that surround us as parents and even just as people. Those pressures that tell us to conform, take a normal path, provide for our family and not take risks. Despite having never wanted to follow a ‘normal’ path in my life I suddenly found myself looking into ‘normal’ graduate schemes and ‘normal’ jobs. I was convincing myself that having my daughter meant I needed to make the ‘responsible’ decisions and not do the outlandish things I’d always wanted to do. Whilst in the early stages of my pregnancy, Monkey’s Dad and me discussed things that we wanted and we both expressed a wish to travel. I said I wanted to finish my degree and give myself the option of further study, but I said that travel was definitely a part of my future. He seemed to need something more than this and I just couldn’t give it to him. Now, the reasons he decided to leave are way more complex than I can do justice to in a blog post. And I don’t think it would be fair to him to claim that this is all there is to it. But I think a small part of it was that I was too busy trying to control everything, whilst he was too busy trying to force me to commit to things I just wasn’t ready to commit to. We were both panicking and we didn’t know each other well enough and he didn’t give me or himself the chance to find out what we wanted, together as a family. Within weeks of finding out I was pregnant he’d gone. I often wondered what would have happened if we’d just given ourselves the time to get used to the new situation we were in; instead of trying to force each other to be the people we thought we needed the other person to be….
Since that point I have changed and developed so much as a person I’m partly unrecognisable. I’ve gone through such a lot having my daughter on my own and coming to terms with the effect that will have on both out lives. As I said, I really ended up convincing myself that I needed to do the ‘normal’ thing for the sake of my daughter. It was only as I got further down those paths, and truly started looking at things like the NHS graduate scheme or civil service as a realistic option that I knew it was never going to make me happy – and that would make Monkey unhappy. It was this realisation that made me really start thinking about what I actually wanted – and that’s to travel. I know without a doubt that if I get to the end of my life without travelling, without living in another country and possibly without learning another language then it will be my biggest regret. So to allow that to happen whilst knowing that would be a big crime against myself.
A while ago I did a post about how big my safety net should be: http://www.backpacksandbabygrows.com/2014/07/03/how-big-should-a-safety-net-be/ . In this post I discussed giving myself a back up plan that involved completing a Masters at the same time as saving to do a RTW trip, so that if travel didn’t happen I would have other options to fall back on. Options that I actually wanted to take, such as postgrad study. Since writing that post though, I’ve realised that actually, I just want to go. I don’t want any other distraction; I just want to save up as much as I can and head off into the unknown with my wee Monkey. This trip and travelling has somehow evolved into so much more than ‘just’ a trip. I know that thought is probably echoed in the minds of countless other travellers or wannabe travellers. So much so, it’s become clichéd – but it’s clichéd because it rings so true for so many people. For me this trip is about finally starting my life. That probably sounds strange, but I’m a late starter in life – my own potential and personal development has been delayed and diverted time and time again. Mostly due to circumstances out of my control, particularly as a child and teenager. My 20s were spent coming to terms with this, and it’s only been since starting college and going back to university that I’ve become the person I always knew I could be. Having my daughter has finalised that in a way nothing else could. Making these steps to travel and jump out into the deep end, as a single parent is really the first step in what I feel is my ‘true’ life, the life I’m meant to have. So there’s a lot riding on it. It’s not that I don’t want the postgrad stuff anymore, it’s that I’m acutely aware they will be there when I get back, I can do those at any time, anywhere in the world. But it’s travelling that will help me to be who I need to be emotionally; it’s travelling that will let my daughter be the person she can be….
Another thing I’ve slowly admitted to myself is that I don’t want to put monkey into the daily grind that is the school system. I know there are some amazing teachers out there; my sister is one of them. But there’s also some terrible teachers out there and the school system is there to cater for the middle ground; it’s there to create an obedient workforce who behave themselves, turn up on time, don’t question authority and basically live life with a set of blinkers on. The world does not need any more of those people, that I do know – if it’s to survive, if we’re to survive as a species we need the mad, creative, wild and inappropriate types. I know too many people who had every last bit of creativity and individualism drained or pummelled out of them at school, to be OK with signing my child up for that. I really want to do something that probably lies in between home schooling and unschooling – (although as with most of the other unschoolers I’m not that keen on the name, as it implies no learning whatsoever which couldn’t be further from the truth). Admitting this to myself has made me realise that those are my 2 core beliefs and aspirations in my life: travel and home schooling, so the rest just needs to somehow fit around them. Or I need to make it fit around them because in the end it’s me that’s in charge of my life. No one else can do these for me. I would love to start working for myself, writing and making a living by piecing together all my skills in a way that makes me happy. Whether that’s teaching English, writing, doing photography, or a bit of all these things and maybe some other things too, I don’t know. But I’m definitely not a Monday to Friday kind of a woman. I would also love to meet someone who shares my dreams, I’d like to let go enough to fall in love again and maybe (just maybe) expand my little family, as having monkey has been the best decision I ever made. Finally realising that these are the things I truly know has given me emotional freedom that I’ve never felt before. It’s given me a purpose and something to aim at. I don’t need riches (not that I ever wanted them), I do want to have the finances to travel (obviously) and to provide my daughter and myself with a half decent standard of living but beyond that I really don’t care. I don’t want her to grow up in the consumerist mess we have in the UK, where how we view our own worth and the worth of others is somehow inextricably linked to what we own and how much money we have in the bank. I want her to know that there is so much more to life than money and possessions. Poverty is horrific but so is having all the materialistic things you ever wanted, only to realise that you’re still looking for something that can’t be bought and now you’ve not got the time to find it.
So this is where I am today, embarking on this adventure is a strange thing for me at this point in time. I’ve still got a year of my degree to complete. This will undoubtedly be one of the most intense years I ever experience but it’ll be worth every drop of blood, sweat and tears that I shed and have shed over the last 7 years. The RTW trip still feels completely imaginary – because it is. It probably won’t feel in the slightest bit real until I actually book us those tickets, and maybe it won’t feel real until we step off the plane and head into our first country on the list (hopefully China). To keep myself focused on the long-term future I keep looking at this big map online and planning where we’ll go and when, I’m reading all these travel blogs and talking to my closest friends about my plans. But on the flip side, I also have to keep my feet firmly on the ground and focus on the here and now. I HAVE to get this degree; I’ve worked too hard to fall at the last hurdle. Not only that, I know I’m capable of getting a 1st. It’s where my grade point average is lying at the moment and I’d be fibbing if I didn’t say a 1st is what I want. Although saying that, I do now know that it’s not the be all and end all, any degree will be a massive achievement for anyone let alone someone in my position.
So this is my bit of emotional landscaping – making that decision to travel has just brought on an avalanche of life choices and realisations that I could never have expected. I’d love to hear if any of you have had a similar experience in the comments section! I suspect that travel and making those massive decisions takes on this huge role in nearly everyone’s life – especially if it’s something you end up turning into a lifestyle choice rather than just a holiday. I’m so excited already at the thought of the adventures to come and the experiences me and my daughter will have together – I’ll have to increase my vocabulary and powers of articulation just to put into words how I feel when we actually go!!
I thought I’d do a post about my thoughts and recommendations for baby carriers. This could be for their general use or for something more specific to the traveller. This is mostly because now my monkey is nearly 2 I’ve become pretty knowledgeable about some of the carriers on offer and i have strong opinions about some of them (good and bad). I also recently had some amazing service from the woman who makes my favourite carrier so I thought it’d be a good time to share my experience of her carriers as although she has a big fan base, I believe she mostly gets her business through word of mouth and I want to do my part as her carriers are simply the best. More on that later….. So, I’ll give a summary of the carriers Ive used, let you know why I either like or don’t like them and try to give them a score out of 10. The thing with baby carriers is that they are probably incredibly personal (which is why my favourite is so damn good as they’re custom made); but this does mean that not everyone will agree with me I’m sure – especially on the ones I either hate or think are over rated. I’m sure some people have had a really good experience with these carriers, they’re just not for me.
Woven Wraps: I never liked the great big pieces of material that you have to wrap around in some special and seemingly complicated way – i wish I did like them as those mums always look so bloody cool and capable – I think if you can master the art of these it’s like some kind of badge to say you’re a parent who can cope with anything; hence, they just made me feel inadequate! Possibly if I’d persevered with them I’d have got the hang of it but I was on my own and they just frustrated me, so I gave up. This led me to try the alternatives, that were as close to possible in that traditional design because I do like the closeness they give and how comfortable the babies generally look in them. I think if I were to have another I might try a big stretchy or woven wrap again or a ring sling but we’ll see.
Baby Bjorn: So the 1st carrier I used after giving up on the big strips of material was the Baby Bjorn – this was lent to me by a friend and it was all I had. They are mid range price, ranging from about £50 but go up to £120. I was lent the Baby Bjorn Active carrier. These are the carriers you see about quite a lot and Dads seem to like them. Baby can face inwards or outwards. I’m not into the judgemental thing over other peoples choices in the slightest but I know the ‘baby wearing’ fan base say that having baby facing outwards all the time can mean they get overloaded with sensory information and it’s better to have them facing in so they can look about if they want but also cuddle up and sleep or just get a break from the constant environmental input they face. I kinda get this argument and whilst she was little I always had my monkey inward facing and when she was bigger I had her on my back so she can also cuddle in. I’ll be honest – I’m not a fan of this carrier at all, I think it’s over rated and over used. The baby’s entire weight is on its crotch which is OK when teeny but I don’t think that’s great as they get heavier. It doesn’t allow for a natural C shape spinal position for the baby either which is the recommendation. Also even when my monkey was small (under 3 months) it wrecked my back. I would get back pain within about 15 minutes of using it, friends have experienced something similar too. I would give this carrier 4/10, maximum. So I moved on…..I wanted something that was more natural and allowed baby to have that natural seated position and I wanted her weight on her bum not her crotch.
Baba Sling: Before I really found something like this I was very kindly given a baba sling as a gift this is a kind of pouch sling. It looks
great and on paper ticks lots of boxes. They have great PR and a good website. It’s a one shoulder carrier and can have baby in lots of positions that change as your child does. Again – I didn’t really like this in practice. When they’re newborns you’re meant to be able to kind of lie baby down in it in a cradle position but I just couldn’t get monkey comfortable in a safe position; her chin always seemed to be forced to her chest which looked like it was restricting her breathing – something the instruction leaflet warned about. It just made me feel panicky when using it. The instructions were difficult and it was a right faff just to get started. Almost so much so that I sort of gave up – anyone who has kids will testify that in those first few weeks everything can kind of feel like a bit of a stress and anything that made my life harder not easier got chucked to one side. On my own it’s the last thing I wanted and I’m sure that’s the same even with couples who are together at home for the first few weeks. Eventually I went back to it when monkey was bigger and could support her head more and the hip position (pictured) was OK, but when she was bigger, she was of course heavier and this wasn’t comfortable with the one shoulder style after about 20 minutes of carrying her. This sling costs about £70 and I didn’t think it was worth it at all – don’t bother, get something else in my opinion. I lent it to a friend to see if she’d have more luck when she had her baby and she actually had to wait for me to go round and show her how to use it as she couldn’t work the instructions out either. Neither of us are daft – even with baby brains! I don’t think she used it for long if at all…. I’d give the baba sling 3/10 as it was actually less practical than the Baby Bjorn and not worth the money.
Mei Tai Sling: I was then recommended trying a Mei Tai style carrier so I ordered a Palm and Pond Mei Tai sling from Amazon. This cost £24.99 and was the best sling up until now. The mei tai is traditional Asian inspired sling and comes in all different kinds based around one general shape. There’s some info here and you can see how to use the sling… http://www.meitaibaby.com/index.html Baby has a natural C shape spinal curve and their weight is on their bum. It has a main panel and 4 long, usually padded ties that go around your waist and over the shoulders. Baby can be carried on the front or back once they can sit up alone. Because I am prone to back ache which is worse with front wearing, I had monkey on my back as soon as she was big enough and this worked perfectly for me for quite a long time. It was great value, comfortable and secure. It’s the style I’d probably go with for front wearing from birth if I decided not to brave the ring sling or woven wrap. With the palm and pond, the only thing I found was that once she got heavier and heavier the ties weren’t padded enough and so they dug into my shoulders. This eventually got uncomfortable so I had to find something different, but had I owned this from birth I’d have got amazing value out of it for the money as I got decent value out of it anyway. It also showed me that what I needed was a waist and chest strap to distribute the weight more evenly. I even managed to sell it on Ebay for £20 so managed to make most of my money back. For those other single parents out there or just parents who generally spend the day alone, I was shown this youtube video for instructions on how to get baby on your back and into the sling with no help – it’s the technique I use to this day. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zfck0-x7Z3E I used the mei tai all the time and used to walk for at least 45-60 minutes before my back started to ache a bit – but I would consider going for this long about the normal time you should carry a weight for before having a rest. If I can use a carrier for an hour before needing to take baby off then I’m happy. I would give this carrier 8/10 – just because it didn’t quite work for me as baby got heavier – really though, considering the low cost if I’d had it from birth I’d be giving it a 9/10.
Madame GooGoo Full Buckle: Whilst taking my monkey to nursery in the Mei Tai I saw a woman using what looked like a great carrier – it was the mei tai
style but had a full buckle arrangement so a proper waist strap with buckle and a chest strap – kind of like the hiking rucksacks but using the traditional style. It looked amazing and the baby looked super happy and comfortable so I asked the lady where it was from. She told me it was a Madame GooGoo – I had to double check that name with her as it sounded strange and I’d never heard of her. I couldn’t find a website and eventually had to look on Facebook where I found her page. The lady who makes these carriers is called Aga and she operates from Poland. I can’t stress enough how amazing they are. However, after seeing the carrier in person I was hoping to get one pretty quickly as my Palm and Pond was getting uncomfortable. I emailed off and got in touch with Justyna who I think runs all the admin side of it. I explained what I saw the lady wearing and said I really wanted the waist and chest strap as I knew this would give me the back support I needed as I seem to have a fussy back that aches relatively easily and quickly given half a chance. What I found was that Aga makes all the carriers to a specific size, so the main panel is made to be suitable for the size of your baby, and the rest of it is custom fit to your size. They’re adjustable within a range and if you and your partner want to use the same carrier then she can make one that adjusts to fit you both. She does have certain ones in stock but unfortunately none were my waist size so I had to book in for a sew date. BUT this meant I got to choose all my material (there’s some really fabulous materials to choose from too!) and pick everything I wanted in regards to the style. For my 1st carrier I chose a black
background with brilliant rockets and spaceships and little planet Earths all over it, with a hood which had a rainbow striped material inside it. I had black velvet shoulder straps and waist strap too. I also had extra bum darts and padded sides for extra comfort around monkey’s legs. To have all this custom made for me and monkey plus postage cost me £108 – this can change depending on what you go for design wise and where you are in the world but I think it’s roughly around this price. This was still less than the most expensive Baby Bjorn and I was happy to go for it and pay the money. It’s the best money I ever spent!! It’s the most comfortable carrier and Monkey loves it – she bounces away, falls asleep and basically is such a fan she kicks off if she has to go in the pram now. I can wear the carrier for about 90 minutes by which time I’m ready for a rest anyway. In its current size which was a 15″ back panel I reckon it would have done me from her being about 6-8 months old until now and she’s nearly 2. Admittedly she’s not exactly a huge kid but still. I think the weight limit for a standard carrier would be around 25kg, but Aga also makes pre-school carriers for toddlers if carrying works for you for this long, I suspect their weight limit will be higher due to the larger back panel.
Because Aga is so busy and popular the only downside was that I had to wait a bit for an available ‘sew date’ – although they did slot me in as soon as they could. Whilst I was waiting a friend lent me a Littlelife Explorer rucksack carrier … more on that in a second though. I give the Madame GooGoo carriers a big fat 10/10 – can’t recommend her enough. She also makes the Mei Tai style or anything else you might want, but the full buckle style suits me the most. Find her on Facebook here… http://www.facebook.com/pages/Madame-Googoo-baby-carriers/145687608816099?fref=ts or if you don’t do Facebook you can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org – say you want a carrier and they’ll take you from there.
Little life Explorer Rucksack: Well as I mentioned, whilst waiting for my Madame GooGoo a friend lent me the Littlelife Explorer rucksack – these seem
really practical and they have a rain cover, space for stuff underneath, you can attach toys and they seem pretty comfy compared to some. Baby seems to be sat on their bum but very straight so I don’t think you get that C shape curve. For me it hurt my back within about 20 minutes, I think the rucksack is just too heavy on its own without the baby even in it. Also as monkey got heavier it got harder to lift it up safely and put her on my back as you put baby in the carrier before you put it on your back. It does have the waist and chest strap for even weight distribution but like I said, it’s just too heavy. I see a lot of guys with these and I think they just have more upper body strength to deal with them, but not for me. It costs around £100 – due to this I’d give it 6/10 as that’s a steep price to pay if you find it is too uncomfortable to actually use like me – I have a friend who used it regularly though so maybe I’m just a wuss :) So, back to Madame GooGoo and what prompted this post – I recently went out with my monkey to the outdoor playgroup and on the way home I put her on my back and didn’t notice that a shoulder strap was twisted. Now monkey has the tendency to excitedly bounce away on my back when she sees a bus or a lorry or a dog or another baby or ….. you get the picture. This is fine and Madame GooGoo carriers can easily
cope with this but the added pressure on the twisted strap meant that by the time I got home the actual velvet had ripped. I was truly gutted – I now have a kid who hates the pram and no carrier, I also know it would be complete luck if Aga had an in-stock carrier in my size and monkey’s size. I nearly cried as I really didn’t want to wait 2 months for a new carrier plus it was the day before our trip to Carlisle and we had lots of Roman discovery trips planned and a pram wasn’t going to cut it even if I did convince her to go in it. So, two things – first of all a friend very kindly lent me her Ergo Baby carrier that was boxed up as new and waiting for her to give birth. I know how precious the new baby stuff is for your first baby so I was unbelievably grateful to use this in Carlisle (more on the Ergo Baby carrier in a minute). Next I emailed Justyna with a panicked desperate email to see if they could help. Monkey was about a month off me ordering her a new size carrier anyway as she’s grown quite a lot and I wanted one to see us through until she’s properly independently walking at a quicker than snails pace (toddlers have no sense of urgency)! This meant I didn’t mind getting a new one; I was incredibly lucky and there were actually some ready made ones in our size – next up Justyna asked me to send her a picture of the damage to the old carrier as I’d asked if they could fix it. It’s such a beautiful carrier and I want to be able to lend it to friends or sell it on or even use it again myself in the future (you never know). Once she’d seen the damage and verified that I bought the carrier direct from them and not 2nd hand she told me they’d make a new strap and fix the carrier for free and cover all my postage. As you can imagine I’m totally over the moon with this and it just means I’m even more impressed with this lovely lady and her business practice. I think 11/10 is more justified too :)
Ergo Baby Carrier Just before I finish I’ll quickly round up with the Ergo Baby carrier- these come so highly recommended online I was
actually quite pleased I got the chance to try one out. They are a good carrier and sort of seem similar to the ones Aga makes – the basic model is suitable from birth up to 20kg and can be worn on the front and back. However even though they say they’re suitable up to 20kg I found that when monkey was on my back the carrier only came halfway up her back – looking at pictures on their site this seems kind of standard. What I found was that this means monkey can move about and sway around a lot more. She’s not in danger of falling out or anything but it does mean I was put off balance a lot and this puts extra strain on my back. This led to my back aching quicker than it does with my Madame GooGoo. Also because monkey isn’t quite as secure she won’t sleep in the carrier, whereas with Aga’s carriers the panel goes right up to her neck and the hood provides neck support (if you go with a no hood design you can have an added curve at the top just for neck support) – I think this makes monkey feel more stable so she goes to sleep really easily in the Madame GooGoo carrier. The Ergo baby carrier costs between £70 and £160 depending on the style you go for – I have other friends who use it and from what I gather it’s a great baby carrier from newborn when you’re carrying baby on your front, especially when they compared it to the Baby Bjorn. However for me it just didn’t match up to the quality of Aga’s wonderful creations, it can cost more and you don’t get the awesome individuality that comes with all the choices of fabric you get with Madame GooGoo carriers. I’d give the Ergo Carrier 7/10. Good for wee ones, not so good for toddlers. My friends may disagree with this but their babies are still wee, I reckon once they get bigger they might have the same issues I did with it.
Conclusion: You may be wondering why on earth someone would try as many carriers as this – why not just give up and stick with a pram? I’ve been wondering this myself as I write this and actually see how many carriers I’ve used. However, there’s something special about carrying your baby about, it creates a great bond and closeness you just don’t get with a pram. Also it genuinely is so much easier (especially if you live in a block of flats, or a big city, or anywhere with steps) to just get them in the carrier and leave. In Glasgow it rains a lot – monkey hates the rain cover and I also get wet, usually the wind blows my hood down and I don’t like losing my peripheral vision so this means with the pram we both get wet. Using a carrier, means I use a big umbrella and we both stay nice and dry. It also means we can easily go to places with stairs (hidden gem restaurants that always seem to be in a basement). We can go to a museum and now she’s running round I can just run with her rather than trundle after her with the cumbersome pushchair. Buses, subway systems and any transport is loads easier too. The only thing I use the pram for now is if I go to the supermarket with her as it’s good to stash heavy stuff under, but I try and do those trips when she’s at nursery to be honest! If travelling about I’m guessing baby carriers are the way forward. Madame GooGoo carriers would be perfect – comfy for parents and babies and they can be stored in a bag when not in use (unlike the hiking carrier style). You may also wonder what I would do if I had all this knowledge right at the start… I think, (because I hate to be beaten) I would possibly try and master the woven/stretchy wrap to start with. But be warned , if you go this route it WILL take time and patience. It will be worth practising around the house to start with, only when baby is in a calm mood. Then when you’re a seasoned user, venture outside. I’d then get the woven wrap converted into a Madame GooGoo full buckle carrier as this is a service she offers. If I didn’t go that route I would get a Madame GooGoo normal mei tai at the start (she also makes these – the woman is a genius I promise) then get the full buckle style when baby is big enough for back wearing. I’m not sure I’d bother with a pram next time as I never use it anymore! I really hope this has been useful to people anyway and happy baby wearing!!
Things to do in Sydney for free when travelling with kids – courtesy of The Kid Bucket List
If you find yourself in Sydney for a day and want an adventure for free we have found a plethora of delights for you to explore. Whilst you will need to find your way to the spot, entry or exploration is free! Have fun!
The Museum of Contemporary Art Australia is a cultural marvel and houses a brilliant range of contemporary art. The venue is free to visit and children are warmly received. For a gold coin donation child visitors receive an activity book to plot their journey around the site. You can also download this for free and take it with you.
The Rocks Discovery Museum is open every day from 10.00 am – 5.00 pm and is located in a three-storey high restored 1850s sandstone warehouse in The Rocks. It is free to enter and walks you through the history of the are from pre-European occupation through to modern times. It…
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I have now finished my 120 hour online TEFL course! I’m of course extremely happy about this; I’m now officially qualified to teach English as a foreign language. BUT…. there’s always a but isn’t there? I say ‘technically’ in my title because doing the online course means I’ve had no actual teaching practice.
I’ve loved the course and I don’t want to make it seem like I’m criticising the TEFL qualification; however, there are some big downsides to doing the course completely online. I think I’d be incredibly nervous before teaching a lesson for starters. Also there were lots of grammar related questions/problems I had, that really needed the presence of a proper instructor to solve. Anyone who has looked even briefly at the structure of English grammar can attest to how complicated we seem to have made our system. But (yes there’s a 2nd more positive ‘but’)… I feel that I made the right choice and I will stick to my original plan. If you’ve been reading the blog for a while you will know that I planned on doing the online course to familiarise myself with the grammar and to get a feel for what’s expected of me before applying to do the more formal CELTA qualification at the university I currently study. I’m glad I did it this way round. I now have a rudimentary understanding of grammar. Although I will say that if I was only planning on doing this course then jumping straight into teaching, I would need some immense organisational skills to fully prep all my lessons in advance in order to make sure I could answer any questions my students had.
On saying that, I think preparation and advance planning and a huge amount of lesson plans and worksheets all done in advance of the lessons will be key to being a good EFL teacher. I can see why there’s so many complaints about of terrible quality of teaching. If you’re just bumming around and do the TEFL course as a thing to make money, but it’s not something you put any effort, energy or passion into, then you will be a terrible teacher. You will also end up hating your job as much as the students hate you. Sorry, I know that sounds harsh but having done the course I know that it’s completely true… you only have to read some forum and blog posts to know the level of appalling teaching that’s out there and I think this is the reason why. They’ve gone into it thinking it’ll be a doss and it couldn’t be further from the truth.
I think you could do the online course and then build up lots of experience through voluntary work if you wanted. This could be a viable option for anyone who can’t afford the far higher price of the CELTA course. I think I’ll try and do some voluntary stuff anyway as it will help me to get over those initial jitters about standing in front of a class, and it would be nice to have experience before accepting a proper job too. The online course is pretty easy, I don’t want to belittle anyone who found it hard… by that I mean that with a bit of effort I think most people will find it manageable and would be able to complete it. The assignments start off as multiple choice quizzes on the grammar and then build up to written assignments you submit for proper marking. However, these begin as small, manageable quick pieces of work and it’s only the final 3-4 assignments that pose a challenge in any way. These last ones do require you to apply what you’ve been taught and to prepare some full lessons from start to finish. They take time and care and are worth doing well, after all this is what you’ll be doing as a teacher!
Once you’ve done the course you’ll find that along the way, you’ve had to do so much research you’ll have hopefully built up some great resource links from external websites – these will be a huge help when actually teaching. One of the best I’ve found to date is the great blog found here on WordPress called ‘tefltastic’ – http://www.tefltastic.wordpress.com there’s tons of resources, worksheets and lesson planning advice and tips along with a large amount of activity ideas. There’s also hundreds of activity worksheets available to download. Well worth a look! The tefl community is in general very helpful and inclusive – everyone has been in that starter position before, so I think that makes everyone really willing to help and create an open community of sharing when it comes to academic resources.
Below are some good websites I’ve found during the duration of my course:
http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk This is a BBC/British council site offering loads of tips and lesson plan ideas along with grammar help.
http://www.teflteachertraining.com is a great blog by Ted, offering untold amounts of advice and help on all things TEFL
http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/learningenglish/ A good resource if you need some grammar explained in plain english whilst completing the course. It helps to fill in some of the gaps that are there in the TEFL course book.
http://www.onestopenglish.com Again, this is a good site for filling in some of the gaps, the TEFL course is OK but I must admit I did find some explanatory gaps in their books. Although I suppose a bit of self-study is never a bad thing either!
http://www.tefl.net A general resource and advice site
http://www.businessdictionary.com This is a great resource to use for vocabulary you might need in a business english class, providing definitions and also ideas around which to plan your business english lessons.
I’m planning on continuing to post any useful information I find including useful resource sites, so keep an eye out if you find this kind of stuff useful. I’m also hoping to get a little site started up with my own worksheets and lesson plans etc once I actually start teaching. Although this will be a couple of years down the line save for some voluntary work. It is most definitely in the pipeline though – you can hold me to it!
I just want to end by saying that the TEFL course provided by http://www.tefl.org.uk was well worth the money. Although I found some of the instructions to be a little bit ambiguous I did get through it with a grade point average well over 90%. They also marked all my assignments in the agreed timeframe and gave me advice when I asked for it. I’m very glad I did this, and I think it will be extremely valuable when I do the CELTA to have had access to the knowledge and the lesson plans. And if you are very self driven and motivated you could definitely get along into teaching without the CELTA – but I would suggest doing a substantial amount of voluntary work if you can to get the experience and to put into practice all the theory you have been taught. Also it’s worth remembering that knowledge of the subject is only one part of what it takes to be a good teacher and that will come more easily the more you do it – however what really matters are the qualities employers and students will look for :
Happy TEFL-ing guys, I can’t wait to actually get going with my travels and put my knowledge into practice!
I’ve been lucky enough to go to Paris twice now; I do think Paris is somewhere that probably gets better with experience so the more you go the better it is.
There’s a few reasons for this: firstly, it’s such a hugely popular city with tourists that every single tourist attraction is completely mobbed and it takes hours to do the thing you want to do. Queues are enormous for everything by about 10am sometimes even earlier. My recommendation is that you go for a few days and pick one thing to do each day; get to the attraction at the latest 9am and this way you will miss most of the stress (hopefully).
Secondly, the French and specifically Parisians aren’t overly helpful or that keen on tourists. I was here whilst heavily pregnant and will never forget having a large amount of people stand around and watch me struggle up 3 flights of stairs with a heavy suitcase and not one person offered to help. I ended up pulling a muscle all the way across my bump and had a night in hospital back in the UK because they were worried about the pain I was in. Now I’m possibly doing the French a bit of a disservice here, I suspect every major city in the world is the same but they do have their own brand of curtness. One way to combat this is to make sure you attempt to speak some french (this is the same wherever you are actually – an attempt at the local language is a must but more so here than anywhere else I’ve been). I find it always softens people’s attitude. Some of the best help we had was actually from a woman living in Paris who came from elsewhere in the world – so it might be an idea to ask seasoned expats for advice if you can spot them.
Thirdly, don’t expect anything to work quite the way it should. Don’t take timetables at face value or rely on anything being open even if it explicitly states it is open or will be open it is worth doing more research to save yourself a lot of stress and disappointment (more on this later when I chat about our adventurous trip to the Asterix Theme Park).
Eat often and take lots of leisurely breaks in coffee shops, tip well and be prepared to spend more money than you want to. Don’t do anything in a rush (hence the one trip a day rule). It’s possible to do 2 or 3 different tourist attractions in a day but when I say do 1 at 9am, i mean do a big one so you could go and climb the Eiffel Tower at 9am then have some food and stroll along The Seine to see the exterior of the Notre Dame Cathedral. However
if you’re desperate to go inside the cathedral then you will have to queue. I was happy just to see the outside although I had been into the Sacre Coeur. Not being religious in any way meant I was happy to just appreciate the magnificent architecture from afar I guess.
If you can follow these rough guidelines then you’ll probably have a great time without feeling too frazzled on your return. Also it might be worth thinking to yourself that Paris can’t really be done in one long weekend and if you relax in the knowledge that you’ll go back once or twice more the desperation to ‘see everything’ goes away. I still have to go back and
enter the catacombs – the queue was enormous on my 1st trip out there every time we went and the second time I was there I was heavily pregnant so it wasn’t really the best option for me!
Over the course of the two trips I’ve climbed the Eiffel Tower, been inside the Sacre Coeur, wondered round and bought artwork from Montmartre, seen the Notre Dame cathedral, been to The Asterix Theme Park and ridden the biggest wooden roller coaster in Europe, I saw the Tower lit up at night, wandered through some beautiful gardens and eaten and had coffee at Les Editeurs (frequented by Simone De Beauvoir and Satre so a must for any philosophy student) and La Rotonde
(frequented by all the artists years ago). I’ve wandered up the Champs Elysees and seen the Arc De Triomphe and had a fabulous night out at Moulin Rouge. The second trip was far less stressful and this was because I’d done all the big touristy things the first time round so actually spent more time just sitting down and enjoying Paris, wandering through the streets, people watching and appreciating the architecture down the residential streets.
If you’re like me and a fan of theme parks and roller coasters then the Asterix Theme Park is a must – as mentioned it’s home to the largest
wooden roller coaster in Europe, but it’s also much quieter these days as Disney World gets the biggest chunk of the revenue. It’s kind of vintage in its appeal which I like. It was a bit of a nightmare to get there; the bus didn’t show up (there should be a scheduled bus to the park each day but well, it’s France). We were very lucky that a seasoned expat turned up to take her niece there and she guided as through the subway system, train and bus system to finally get to the park and we were lucky that the scheduled bus took us home despite either not turing up on the outward journey or leaving early (we never found out which it was).
Another must is a trip to one of the big shows. We opted for Moulin Rouge as we were lucky enough to wrangle guest list. We still had to bribe the doorman to skip the ginormous queue in,
but apparently he appreciated my outfit (and a big tip) so we were ushered through. The show itself is fantastic and you will be extremely entertained (if you like that sort of thing). I managed to drink a couple of bottles of champagne by myself as my friend isn’t a big bubbly drinker, however he was supremely amused at seeing me completely drunk, whilst dressed up to the nines on the streets of Paris. One of my best nights out to date :)
Really there’s not much else to add, I’d love to go back and do a cruise down the Seine at night, enter the Catacombs (finally) and maybe go inside Notre Dame. I’ve also not managed to get into the Louvre as the queues were just monumental and I’ve not got much patience for that unless it’s something I’ve set my heart on. But again, if you went and turned up at 9am to the Louvre it would probably be OK in terms of queue times. I also wouldn’t say no to a trip to Disneyland so I reckon I’ll head back with my little monkey when she’s a bit older (kids are such a great excuse to do all the really fun things :) )
Also as an added footnote – they serve a JD and coke in a typically fabulous and sophisticated way which I loved…..
I’ve been very kindly nominated for the Versatile Blogger Award by the lovely guys at http://www.borderlass.com – I’m really honoured, as a new blogger it makes a big difference knowing other bloggers like and appreciate what I’m writing. Occasionally I feel very critical of what I’m doing and really over-analyse how my writing appears to others so it’s made me extremely happy to get this award!
Anyway, I’ve nominated some extremely well established blogs but ones that I’ve really enjoyed reading and that have given me some genuinely great advice on either blogging, travelling or travelling with kids. There’s also some new ones in there and a couple by people who I think are probably really under represented in the travel blog world. It was a hard choice but I hope I can nominate other blogs I enjoy in the future (who knows!).
So firstly thanks again to border lass and thanks to all the blogs I’ve nominated as I’m loving what you’re all writing. Ever since I’ve set off on this path to achieve my dream of travelling as a single parent, I’ve found the whole travel community to be really inclusive and supportive and I’m very honoured to feel a part of it.
So my 15 nominations are (in no particular order):
So there you have it – 15 blogs I’ve really enjoyed since starting out my own blog. And now 7 things you may not know about me!
1. I absolutely detest baked beans and cucumber
2. I’ve lived in 7 different places all round the UK but I’ve moved house over 20 times
3. I’m incredibly pedantic but my awareness of this means I try to keep it at bay around other human beings
4. Because of number 3 I go back and edit grammar and spelling mistakes on my blog and Facebook even if I don’t notice them for months. Twitter annoys me because it doesn’t let me do this.
5. I have a very very strong affinity and love for elephants – i cry if I read about or see cruelty of any kind towards them.
6. I’ve dreamt of going to the Amazon since I was 8 years old and my school incorporated the Amazon into every subject for a year.
7. As a child I felt more comfortable inside books than I did with other children. This made me into a bit of a fantasist.