Exploring Bournemouth

The next stop on our trip was Bournemouth, right in the heart of beachfront Britain. Ordinarily, this wouldn’t have made it onto my tourist map – however we came down to spend a few days with cousins I hadn’t seen for 38 years, and I am so glad we saw Bournemouth! Despite the rather inclement weather it was lovely to see the coast, and nearby Christchurch. Here’s what we loved:

Catching up with family

This was one of the absolute highlights of the entire trip – and in fact, the past few years :). I haven’t seen my cousins since I left England as a one-year-old, and the kids had never met their second cousins (or is it third cousins? I’m never really sure). We had a wonderful few days exploring Bournemouth together, and Little Miss in particular was devastated to leave them behind. This was a really emotional experience for me too, as I don’t have many cousins on my Sri Lankan side that I see regularly. It was just wonderful.

Swimming at the beach!
Fun playing board games on a rainy afternoon.
Fun playing board games on a rainy afternoon.

 

The English beach

Apparently Bournemouth is the sunny beach spot in all of England – except when it’s windy and cold, like it was unfortunately in the two days we were there! That didn’t stop the kids from swimming though – crazy!

The wildflowers growing along the coastline are just beautiful.
The wildflowers growing along the coastline are just beautiful.
A classic shot of Bournemouth's beachfront.
A classic shot of Bournemouth’s beachfront.

 

Christchurch

We had planned to spend one day in a nearby picnic and adventure playground. However it was quite cold and windy, so we left the kids to have a marathon Harry Potter movie-fest while the older folk decided to explore nearby Christchurch child-free 🙂 It is a lovely historic town, with a beautiful minster and gardens, and a bustling quay.

The minster at Christchurch.
The minster at Christchurch.
Christchurch is incredibly picturesque.
Christchurch is incredibly picturesque.
We went for a walk around the beautiful gardens surrounding the minster.
We went for a walk around the beautiful gardens surrounding the minster.

All in all, we loved out stay at Bournemouth. It’s well worth  visit!

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Girl power tunes

There’s nothing more awesome than totally rocking out to a girl power song when you’re a bit down and depressed. I was thinking this the other day as I was driving along in the car, feeling pretty sad and stressed over some horrible events that had happened, when Katy Perry’s Roar came on. I sang it at the top of my voice – and I have to say it totally made me feel better!

So I thought I’d helpfully compile a list of my favourite songs to sing when the world takes a massive swing at you.

  1. Fighter by Christina Aguilera. I tend to blast this one up loud when someone has done something crappy to me. There’s nothing quite so satisfying as turning an attack into a something that makes you a better, stronger person.
  2. This is who I am by Vanessa Amorosi. I just LOVE this song. I feel like I spent so many years not embracing who I really am, and this is kind of like a personal anthem for me.
  3. I don’t want to be by Gavin Degraw. Girl power songs don’t have to be written by girls! I’m all for gender equality 🙂 Like This is who I am, this song is all about just being who you are.
  4. Titanium by Sia. I literally say these lyrics to myself  when difficult things happen. “You shoot me down, but I get up, I am titanium.” It makes me feel invulnerable, and I really like that.
  5. Shake it off by Taylor Swift. Because sometimes you really do just need to shake it off, right? Little Miss and I completely agree on this.

I love all of these songs, but my absolute favourite at the moment is This is My Fight Song by Rachael Platten. Every time I hear it, it gives me goosebumps. I think it’s especially meaningful because I heard it for the first time when a dear friend was battling advanced brain cancer, and I sang it for her. I also love Rachel’s story – she’s 34 and only just hit it big, after years of playing her music to audiences no bigger than about 20 people. I just love how her time has finally come, and she’s roared onto the stage with such an awesome song that probably encapsulates her stage of life right now.

How about you? What do you listen to when you need a reminder that you can totally triumph over whatever it is that has got you down?

 

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You are enough

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about being authentic.

One of my dearest friends sent me a link to a TED talk by social researcher Brene Brown on vulnerability (I highly recommend watching it here when you get the chance) and probably the thing she said which struck me the most was this:

I am enough.

I know it doesn’t seem like rocket science. But this is a concept I have struggled with for so many years – am I enough? If I don’t get the highest mark, am I enough? If I’m overweight – am I enough? If my kids muck up at school, am I enough? If my house is always a mess, if I fail at my job, if I stuff up at parenting, if I publish a book and no one buys it – am I enough?

It was kind of a light bulb moment. So I decided right then and there – yes, I am enough.

And, because the universe is awesome, I had the opportunity to test my newfound revelation right away.

That same week as my epiphany, Souljourneyboy and I were due to go to our 20-year High School Reunion. Now, I have obviously known about this event for some time, and I had grand plans of losing – about 12 kilos.

It became apparent to me a week out that, sadly, I wasn’t actually going to achieve that goal, since I hadn’t, you know, started dieting. So I decided that I could at least get my hair done, as the highlights I had done a few months ago are half grown out and I don’t think they really suit me all that well. Also it’s been ridiculously humid and my curls have this 1980’s Helena Bonham-Carter thing going on which is, well – kind of frightening.

But of course I had this madly stressful week where there’d been no time in between uni exams and work and piano lessons and art class and lapidary club (yes, Picasso does lapidary of all things, but that’s a story for another time) to find time for the hairdressers.

Finally, on the day before the reunion, I found myself in an exhausted heap, faced with a choice – either I could just sink into my comfortable couch for a few hours and read (which is what I really wanted to do) or I could drag myself down to the shops and book in for the hair appointment (which I knew I wouldn’t enjoy).

Then I reminded myself – I am enough. Realistically, would anyone care what colour my hair is or was? Why did I care? Why would I spend precious hours doing something I didn’t really want to do, all because deep down inside I was worried about not being enough?

So I chose the couch and the book – and crazy hair – had a wonderfully relaxing day, and decided not to care.

Then something really interesting happened. At the reunion – which, by the way was fabulous – I couldn’t believe how many people stopped me to say how much they enjoyed my blog. And even more wonderfully, they all said the reason they enjoyed it was because of my willingness to be authentic.

You can’t be truly, authentically vulnerable unless you are happy to accept yourself the way you are. Unless you know that despite all your shortcomings you are indeed, enough. And yet accepting ourselves is so hard to do, mostly because when we are real about our struggles and our failures, we open ourselves up to criticism and judgement.

It’s so easy to sit back and justify your own life and decisions by the failures and struggles of other people around you – you know, when that inner voice says, God, I would NEVER put my child into care/let my child behave like that/wear that dress/eat that/let my house look like that/make that choice like SHE/HE did. 

That’s the scary part of being vulnerable – you put the bits of yourself you usually hide away on show. You are forced to be truly honest with yourself, which, let’s face it, can sometimes be confronting.

But you also open up real conversations, authentic experiences and connection with others. You open yourself up to change and growth by looking at your inadequacies face-on.

And that’s what came home to me at the reunion – all these lovely people thanking me for expressing thoughts and feelings they had struggled to articulate, people who feel a bit better about their lives and experiences because I was honest about mine.

For a writer, that’s just about the best feedback you get can, I think.

I don’t claim to have reached some pinnacle of inner understanding, and I’m sure there will be plenty more times (today, probably) where I have to remind myself that I am enough.

But I hope by me sharing this you will remind yourself of it too.

And, by the way – I am absolutely sure that not a single person noticed my hair at all 🙂

So let’s all try to remember:

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Oh, to be seven

Of late, I’ve been watching Little Miss and thinking that seven years old is just about the perfect age to be. After some reflection, here are my reasons why it’s just the most delightful age….

It’s super easy to make friends

I took Little Miss to a school holiday workshop the other day, and she was nervous at first because she didn’t know anyone else. When I picked her up afterwards, she told me she’d made a new friend. I asked her how they had become friends and she frowned at me, puzzled by my question. “She asked if I wanted to be her friend, and I said yes”. I love it. It’s fast, direct and you know right away where you stand. Why do we complicate friendships as adults? The next time I meet a fellow human I like, I’m going to try it.

You can do flawless cartwheels

I can only imagine my body would go into some kind of toxic shock if I attempted a cartwheel or a handstand. Little Miss is able to spend most of her day whirling around or upside down, and never seems to get tired. Totes jel.

You still believe in magic

Little Miss has an ongoing letter exchange with the Midnight Garden Fairies. She writes them notes and leaves them flowers, and they draw her pictures and tell her all about the fairy realm. She delights in magic, and I delight in the memory of the magic I once believed in. It’s seriously the best thing about parenting.

You’re discovering amazing books for the first time

The Enchanted Wood. Narnia. The Twits. I feel as though her joy in reading these wonderful, wonderful classics for the first time rekindles the delight I felt when I was her age, devouring Enid Blyton book by book.

Who’d like to turn the clock back to seven with me?

What it’s like to love fictional characters

When I started this post, it was going to be a review of a show I’ve been watching lately – True Detective 2 (WARNING – spoilers ahead!)

While it’s been somewhat panned by critics, I really loved it – I found it compelling and thought-provoking, and the noir cinematography haunting. Yes, some of casting wasn’t brilliant – Vince Vaughn the most obvious example – and some of the scenes overwritten, but I really, really liked it and binge-watched it over the period of just a few days.

Afterwards, when I was thinking about why I really liked it, I realised it boiled down to the affection I felt for the two main characters – Ray Velcoro, played by Colin Farrell, and Antigone Bezzerides, played by Rachael McAdams. While the mini-series is a psychological cop thriller, essentially it is a love story, about two broken people finding their salvation in each other. Ray is an alcoholic, corrupt cop, thwarted in his attempt to connect with his son by his own rage and the memory of having killed the man who raped his wife many years ago. Antigone is a shell of a person, deeply traumatized by having been kidnapped and sexually molested as a child. When these two people finally come together, it’s exquisite. Which of course, makes the inevitability of Ray’s tragic end so heartbreaking.

It’s funny how we can become so attached to the characters we read about or watch. It happens to me all the time – after the ending of True Detective I wandered about in a distraught haze for a day, just so completely gutted for Ray and Antigone. I did the same thing after I read The God of Small Things. When I look back on my “real” life, it is marked by emotionally impacting events – birthing my children, being at my nephew’s funeral, experiencing the sadness and joy that comes along as part of life’s journey. Similarly, my life also seems marked by the times I experienced vicarious tragedy and happiness– when Beth died in Good Wives, or when Anne lost her baby in Anne’s House of Dreams; when Dorothea realised her love for Ladislaw in Middlemarch, when the giant’s heart opens for the little children in Oscar Wilde’s The Selfish Giant or when the mentally disturbed Cyril is executed in Oz.

This is why I love good writing, whether it be a TV show, a play, a book or movie – I feel as though I’ve lived through these experiences right alongside some of my favourite people. It doesn’t matter if I don’t actually know them in the flesh and blood sense – they are real. Sometimes they are a reflection of who we are, or who we were, who we could have become, or who we want to be. And I’m glad there are plenty more waiting for me – in unread books and unwatched shows. Waiting for me to discover them 🙂

Celebrating milestones

Last week Souljourneyboy and I took the kids to a local shopping centre after school. We decided to eat dinner in the food court – which of course sounds much easier than it actually is! Everybody wanted something different and it took a good half an hour for us to help each child get their meal from their desired food outlet. When we finally sat down together I remarked to Souljourneyboy that I am looking forward to the day when we just give the kids $10 each and they are all capable of sourcing whatever food they want themselves.

Thinking upon it later, I was reminded of similar times, when I’d look forward to various milestones that held the promise of making parenting just that bit easier. It’s funny – you desperately look forward to the time when your child is capable of some new feat, but when they actually do achieve it, it’s easy to rush forward into the new stage without really celebrating that the old one is over. And so, with a 6-year-old, 9-year-old and 11-year-old, here’s what I’m thankful for right now…

Everyone’s finally mastered this sleep thing 

I really think sleep deprivation is the single most exhausting, frustrating and difficult thing about parenting. I remember being up with a newborn in the middle of the night,  just crying, wondering why on earth I’d even bother trying to sleep when I knew I’d have to be up in an hour anyway. And then the years of everyone waking up and demanding attention at 5am! It’s a wonder I’m at all sane. Anyway, I’m pleased to report now that, apart from the odd bad dream, everyone pretty much sleeps in their own bed all night. They go to the toilet by themselves and when they wake up they do their own thing and don’t wake us up. It’s quite, quite wonderful.

Everyone can get their own drink

I know this doesn’t sound like much, but to parents with toddlers this is a REALLY BIG DEAL. I always felt like I’d just sit down after hours of playing/baking/cooking/cleaning and I’d hear a small voice – “I thirsty”. They can get their own drinks and their own food, and it makes life so much more enjoyable!

Having their friends over makes life easier  

When kids are little, there’s a limit to how long a play date can last. They really enjoy it for the fist hour or so – but then all of a sudden your kid doesn’t want to share their “favourite train” (you know, the one they haven’t played with for three years) or their friend throws something and it hits someone’s head, and it’s all over. Now, when they have friends over they disappear for hours and I rarely have to sort anything out.

When they help, it actually helps

I recall gritting my teeth when a little voice asked to “help” cook or mop or use the vacuum. I felt like it drained all my motherly reserves of patience! But now, it’s actually helpful 🙂 They can vacuum and clean and even cook without too much assistance.

There are no more naps This literally changed my life. My day is no longer carved up into pockets of time, with that constant underlying fear that you’ll stay somewhere 10 minutes too long and someone will suddenly get overtired and throw a tantrum at the shops. I really am so glad the napping stage is behind us.

What milestones have your kids reached that you are grateful for?

Great things to do in Penang for the whole family

Penang! Where to start? Only to say – I think I could live here!

One of the best things about travelling with kids is that you visit places you might not normally visit – and you are so glad you did. And the great thing about Penang is that I didn’t feel like the attractions were either for grown-ups OR for kids – they were just fantastic for everyone. We were there four days and we barely scratched the surface, but here’s what we loved:

 Little India

Butter chicken. Need I say more? We had it three days in a row and Picasso was in heaven. Little India is in Georgetown and is, indeed, Little India. We enjoyed the food, the music and the atmosphere, bought some gemstones and just soaked it up.

 Penang Municipal Park (Youth Park)

This is one attraction we probably wouldn’t have visited if we didn’t have kids and we would have totally missed out! It’s beautiful – positioned beside a waterfall and in the jungle. It has playing equipment, exercise equipment, three pools, soccer field, skate park, chess sets, archery range – and it’s ALL FREE. Yes, that’s right. There are monkeys everywhere and one cheeky fellow stole the bag of crisps from right under my nose and sat under a bush eating it, mocking me 🙂

 Penang Butterfly Farm

With 3,000 species of butterflies to see, this is one amazing place. They flutter all around you in the enclosure, and there are also other insects and spiders to see inside. The kids learned a lot and loved it.

Batu Ferringhi

The beach strip in Penang. We found a quiet little beach near Hard Rock Hotel and had a lovely time swimming. The water was so warm and the waves small enough for Little Miss to really enjoy.

Penang Hill

This was amazing. We took the funicular to the top, which provides breath-taking views over Georgetown and Penang. There’s heaps to do once you’re there, including a jungle walk where we saw a Giant Black Squirrel, an Owl Museum and places where you get Henna art done – which Little Miss was very excited about. There’s also a temple and other attractions but we didn’t have time for everything. It probably deserves a whole day on its own. My only advice would be to NOT eat at Bellevue Hill Hotel, which was an expensive and horrible lunch.

 Georgetown 3D Art Museum

Again, something we wouldn’t have done if we didn’t have the kids, and it was awesome. It’s an art gallery of trick images, which look like they are coming out if the wall. You can have your picture taken and it looks very cool. The kids LOVED this. Here’s an example:

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All in all, I highly recommend Penang as a family destination. I would definitely come again and this time stay for longer. We had such fun as a family here.