Women’s March on Washington

Tomorrow is the Women’s March in Washington D.C. 

On days like this, I wish I still lived there.  I would be at that march in a heartbeat.  I’m proud to know a lot of friends and neighbors in D.C. who are going.

I’m even prouder to say that my parents are driving all the way up to D.C. from their house in Florida to attend.  They’re meeting up with my aunt who lives in Virginia and they’re all going to the march together.  And yes, my Dad is going too.  I know a couple of men that are going.  This march isn’t FOR women, it’s for people who believe that women’s right are human rights.  The organizers of the march have also made it clear that this is not just a march for women’s rights, but for any and every marginalized group — immigrants, minorities, members of the LGBTQ community, people with disabilities, etc.  I wish I could be there, but it’s a long commute from England, so I’ll be there with them in spirit instead.  I’m proud to know that my parents are setting an example for my children and nephews and niece  — they could stay home, but they’re driving all day on Friday from Florida to D.C. in order to participate in something that matters.  They’re showing our kids that action is required if change is needed and that it’s important to stand up for what you believe in and defend those who are in need.  They’re really awesome.

If you’re thinking about going but need more details, you can find them here.  The event takes place tomorrow, January 21st, at the intersection of Independence Ave and 3rd St in Washington D.C. near the Capitol Building.  The rally starts at 10AM, the march starts at 1:15PM, and right now they are predicting over 200K people will attend.

This march could have a massive impact; peaceful protests can affect real change.  You only have to look at the Civil Rights era to see the proof of that, or at Standing Rock to see more recent evidence.

Here are a few more links related to women’s rights that I love.  Let me know if you go to the Women’s March — I’d love to hear about your experience.

Some funny sign ideas for the March (please note you cannot carry signs on sticks at the March – put them on foam board or cardboard instead)

In Celebration of Women on A Cup of Jo

Here’s a link to the t-shirt I’m wearing in the pic above — Matt got it for me for Christmas!

Emma Watson’s incredible He For She speech

FEMINIST sweatshirt (another item on my wish list)

 

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Thoughts on Schools and Education

hooray for school

To me, education is the foundation upon which a successful society is built.  A good education offers benefits you can’t always truly measure, and a bad education or a lack of education can limit a person for their entire lives.

I feel strongly that a quality public education is a right, not a privilege, and I believe that public schools have the potential to provide that if they are properly funded and if they rely on an organizational method and curriculum that is designed specifically to serve the children as the #1 priority.  I do not, however, think that this is always how schools are run. 

It’s unfortunate, because I think that the widespread existence of poor and mediocre public schools is what causes parents to seek alternatives for their kids, which I fully understand and believe is admirable — my priority as a parent is that my children get the very best education possible.  But that leads to parents enrolling their children in charter schools or private schools which then causes money to be diverted away from the public schools, which then causes those schools to become less and less effective.  It’s a bad cycle.

I’ve probably already said it one million times, but the thing that has had the single biggest impact on our lives since moving to England is the kids’ new school.  By far and away the school has had the most positive affect on all our lives, more than any of the other changes and experiences we’ve had.

When we lived in D.C., my kids went to public school.  We liked our schools a lot; there were dedicated teachers and nice classrooms and everything was just fine.  We felt like the kids were getting a pretty good education, although we definitely had complaints.  The kids really didn’t LOVE school, but I thought that was normal — what kids LOVE school???

Here in England though, my kids go to an Independent school (which would be called a private school in the U.S.) and it has been eye-opening.  Because here, my kids actually, seriously LOVE school.  The school days are absolutely designed with children in mind — as I’ve said, there’s far, far more activity in their days and weeks — and the school community is really strong.  There are tons of extracurricular activities, they have far more responsibility and independence, and school here is just FUN.  Because they look forward to going to school now, they are getting better grades and learning more than they ever did before we moved.  There’s no downside.

Frankly, though, they only go to this school because Matt’s company pays for it — it costs more than we could probably realistically afford on our own.  Although having now seen what a difference it makes in all our lives, I would bend over backwards to try to provide this to them if his company didn’t pay.  What’s more discouraging is that the school here actually costs about HALF as much as a comparable school in America, so it would be even harder to make it work when we move back home.  It’s really, really disheartening to think of eventually leaving this school and going back to the way things were before.

But, on the bright side, I don’t think that the things that make our school in England so amazing are actually based on the school’s budget.  The way the days are organized and the focus on what’s best for the children in terms of scheduling, curriculum, activity, and community have very little to do with funding and very much to do with priorities.  All of what we love about our school here is achievable without spending almost any extra money, to be honest.

I don’t have solutions for everything that ails so many public schools in the U.S., but I do have some pretty strong ideas now about how small changes could be made that have nothing to do with money that would make any school – every school – a better experience for a vast majority of the students.  And I think that’s a goal worth working toward.  In fact, I’m writing a book about it.

I’d love to hear what you like and don’t like about the schools your kids attend, what types of schools they are, and your thoughts on everything I’ve said about our school here.  And please, if you work in education, share your views from that perspective.  Or if you know anyone who does, please share this post with them.  The more points of view I can learn about, the better!

As parents, we all have a strong interest in doing what’s best for our kids, and improving schools can only help us all.  Change often starts at a grassroots level…let’s get the ball rolling.

Skiing in Chamonix, France

skiing in Chamonix_with kids

Our kids have nearly a month off from school for Christmas break (and again at Easter break!), which is an insanely long time to be off school, but which gives us a really good opportunity to travel.  After New Year’s, most of the state (public) schools start right back up, but our kids didn’t go back until January 10th, so we took advantage of the extra week and headed to Chamonix, just at the base of Mont Blanc in the French Alps, to do some skiing.

We actually flew into Geneva, Switzerland and took a bus to Chamonix.  This was the closest airport and the bus trip was only about 1h 15m.  The bus ran fairly frequently throughout the day between the airport and the center of the town of Chamonix with no extra stops anywhere else, so that made travel easier for us.  While it’s nice sometimes to have car, it’s also nice not to have to navigate unfamiliar roads with signs in foreign languages.

Although the kids have been skiing before, it’s been two years — and for Quinn that is 1/3 of his life! — so we knew that lessons would be useful.  We booked two private sessions with a company called European Snowsport for just our four kids with a single instructor for three hours each of the mornings we’d be skiing.  The rates were VERY reasonable and it was the best money we spent on the whole trip.  Our instructor was Jon Wilson, and he was simply fantastic with our kids — patient, funny, and extremely helpful.  The kids absolutely adored him; the boys thought he was quite possibly the coolest guy ever. 

G and Q skiing

Bridget, Gabe & Owen already had a general ability to ski, stop, and turn, although none of them were super confident.  B was the best of them, as she had been taking indoor ski lessons with her school for a few weeks before the Christmas break. 

B skiing

Gabe and Owen could get by with the gift of athleticism and a general lack of fear, but they definitely needed instruction to improve their technique and really be able to ski the harder slopes safely.  Owen in particular is not really interested in skiing slowly; he bombs down the trails as fast as he can without fear or hesitation so he definitely needed better control for safety purposes.  Gabe is more cautious and wanted to do it all properly, so he went slower and turned more often.  Quinn was just happy to ski at all, but not exactly in control of his body initially.  The improvement they each made over the course of two days was literally astounding.  And they all just LOVED it.

Owen skiing

Jon also took the time to give Matt and I some advice and pointers, which we both needed and benefited from.  I realized after he gave me a few tips that I have had exactly one ski lesson in my whole life when I was about 14…and that I basically ski on a wing and a prayer.  I can make it down the intermediate slopes, but it’s not pretty or graceful or done correctly.  After attempting to apply Jon’s advice, I felt wayyyy better about my own skiing, which was a lovely bonus.

We rented an Airbnb for the weekend that was perfectly located; we were easily able to walk everywhere we needed to go.  The apartment itself was extremely comfortable and so cute and Alpine-y, and it had 3 bedrooms AND two bathrooms, which is always a bonus when you’re traveling with 6 people.  It was in a quiet location, but literally a 5-minute walk from the village center where all the shops and restaurants were located, and it had a gorgeous view of Mont Blanc.  You can see it in the picture below — it’s the smaller building on the right, just under the mountain.  I would definitely stay there again, and the host was very helpful!

airbnb chamonix

Our one mistake was renting skis from a shop that was not located at the mountain where we planned to ski.  Although the ski shop we used was completely fine, we did have to walk from the shop back to our apartment carrying all the gear on the night we picked it up (a very slow process with 4 kids), and then we had to carry it all again in the morning to walk in the opposite direction to get to the area where we were skiing.  And we had to do THAT walk in ski boots (or carry them, which just mean more crap to carry).  We should have rented our skis from the shop directly at the base of the area where we planned to ski.  We rented a locker at the mountain that afternoon so at least we could leave the skis and poles there overnight and just walked back in the morning in regular boots carrying our ski boots.  It took us less than half the time to walk the <1km distance without skis than it had with them!  Live and learn.  

There are ten different ski areas just in Chamonix, but we stayed in one place for both days of skiing.  First, our trip was pretty early in the ski season, so there wasn’t a ton of snow yet and some of the ski areas weren’t open.  And second, the area where we skied — Les Planards — was all beginner and intermediate trails and was fairly small so we felt like we’d be better able to keep track of all four kids. 

None of us are expert skiers by a long shot, so we didn’t really need to venture into the more difficult ski areas yet (I’m sure that day will come though, since all the kids absolutely love skiing and improve by leaps and bounds every time we go).  The slopes we were on were open from 9AM until 4PM and we were there for the entire time both days.  Although we did get a bit bored of doing the same runs over and over by the end of the second day, it was also really cool to see the kids getting better and better each time they went down and feeling confident that they knew their way around. 

Plus, there was an Alpine luge roller coaster there that was included in the ski passes!  The luge track ran next to the ski slope and was self-controlled — you were in charge of the brakes, so you could determine how fast or slow you wanted to go! 

alpine luge

Because the area is in the valley, it was in shade all morning.  It was so interesting to watch the sun hit the tops of the mountains beside us and gradually make it’s way down to us sometime after lunch.  On the first day, we spent the afternoon skiing in bright sunshine, slowly peeling off layers of clothing as it warmed up.  The second afternoon, though, the sun attempted to break through, but a cloud sort of drifted down from over the top of Mont Blanc and the weather turned grey and cloudy.  People told us that locals know that when Mont Blanc “wears a hat” (has a cloud perched on top), that means weather is coming.  It snowed overnight that night, so the kids thought that was such a cool way to predict the weather.

Mont Blanc in a hat

We had SO much fun skiing.  By the end of day two, even Quinn was zipping down the intermediate slope; in fact, he went so fast, I couldn’t keep up with him.  He was in control the whole way though, and loved every minute of it.  (And here I say another huge thank you to our ski instructor, who spent quite some time on the second morning going down that trail over and over again with just Quinn until he was confident Quinn had it mastered.) We are determined to get another ski trip in this winter so Quinn (and all of us) can maintain the improvements we made in Chamonix!

Chamonix centre ville

The village of Chamonix is also so quaint and charming, you can hardly believe it’s real.  Sometimes you see pictures of a place and think, there’s no way it all looks like that in real life, it’s too perfect.  But Chamonix really is as picturesque as it seemed when we were researching our trip.  There are tons of restaurants and shops and everything is perfect Alpine beauty.  We had several great meals at different restaurants.  On the first night, Owen discovered fondue.  My kids hadn’t heard of it before somehow, but Owen read it on the menu and asked what it was.  After I explained it, he wasn’t interested in anything else.  When the waitress set down a literal VAT of delicious melted cheese and an enormous basket of bread, we basically all ate our weight in fondue.  In fact, we didn’t have a single meal that wasn’t delicious the whole weekend.

Although we went on this trip looking at it more as a ski experience than as a destination we really wanted to see, it turned out that Chamonix is one of my favorite places in Europe so far.  Even if we hadn’t skied, it would have been worth visiting.  Such a good surprise! 

On the last day of the trip, we actually didn’t ski and instead spent the day at the Aiguille du Midi — which was such an amazing and unbelievable experience, it deserves its own post.  Coming soon!

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A Blank Slate – Happy New Year

winter-morning

As an over-analyzer, New Years is practically my favorite holiday; I love the practice of looking back and remembering what we’ve done and looking ahead to plan what we should do next, talking about changes we’d like to make or goals we’d like to achieve, weighing our success and failures and thinking about how to improve, and generally just examining life.  Certainly I could do all those things any day of the year, but a little symbolism as the year clicks over to new makes it seem a bit more meaningful.

This morning I wake up to a blank slate stretched out before me, a year of my life waiting to be written.  I’m excited by the possibilities.

2016 was a good year for our family.  Globally it felt like a bit of a sucker punch, but personally we kind of rocked it.  I’m hoping to ride that wave and have more of the same in 2017, but accompanied by fewer geopolitical disasters and the deaths of artists and inspirations.  I can’t control those things, though, so all I can do here is hope for a better year in the world at large and work to make it so for me and mine.

In 2016 we traveled a LOT — we went to Italy, France, and Germany, took a long trip home to America in the summer, and saw even more of the UK with excursions to Warwick and Cornwall and Wales.  In 2017, we’ve already got a ski trip planned in the French Alps, a trip to Ireland in the Spring, and we’re currently planning other trips to Amsterdam, Brussels, and Normandy.  And that’s just between now and June.

The kids’ school was a highlight of 2016 for us all; it’s still amazing to me how a positive school experience can affect every aspect of life for our whole family.  We are all invested in the school here in a way I never anticipated and look forward to another good year.

As for me, I’m not planning to make any massive resolutions.  I workout enough, we eat healthy, and I’m never going to become a morning person; I don’t need to make promises I won’t keep. Instead I’m focusing on goals I want to achieve.  I’m writing like a mad woman this year — my book won’t write itself — and reading more, more, more.  Reading, writing, and traveling were my resolutions last year, too, and I did them all and I loved it.  I see no reason to change a good thing, so those are my goals for this year too.  In even greater quantities.

May the New Year bring you what you need, whatever that is, and may we all wring out every last bit of fun and happiness from it that we can.

Happy 2017!

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