Lara Ruffle Coles

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Letting Go

With a baby due soon, I’ve got to transition from one type of life to another for a second time. This is fine, I’m okay with it, but it’s another jump for the brain and the body.

I’ve been working part time for a year and a bit and I’ve really loved it. The company is great, and even as a remote worker I’ve still really enjoyed the role and those I work with. I’ve also had the opportunity to work full time occasionally and apart from the additional income, it has enabled me to really sink my teeth into a number of projects, and to fully contribute to the development of the project in question.

And I know all that sounds a bit wanky, but after a year and a half of breastfeeding, pooey nappies and ‘just being a mum’, solely being judged on my ability to test the shit out of a website or app is really satisfying. My sense of self-esteem has been boosted as well, and as my husband also works in IT, we get to have all the loser conversations we always had before Rafe came along. It does make a difference!

I’ve also got to transition to two children, and not feel guilty about not giving my son as much attention. I’m trying not to focus on this too much as it is pointless, negative and unrealistic.

And I need to not compare how I raise them: I want to breastfeed like I did with my son but it might not be practical for as long, and my milk might not come in the same way as last time either!

Apart from the two examples above, there are a huge number of things that might be different from Rafe, and making a big fat mental list of how I might ‘fail’ as a parent with two children deserves a big smack over the head.

Things I am excited about are:

  • My son now goes to nursery 3 days a week and I know he gets so much out of it, and I really want him to have that time away from me and baby, and having to make him the second priority
  • My children becoming friends and everything that brings – good and bad! I am sometimes a little jealous of the friends and family who had that experience growing up, and I am so excited for them to experience that relationship
  • The opportunity to watch TV and do nothing for a little while, especially on nursery days, and before my husband goes back to work
  • Becoming a family of 4!

And when COVID is over, cinema, cafe and pub outings with the baby! And maybe with both when I’m strong enough for that! 🤭

And in true Frozen spirit…

No, You Calm Down!

With Lockdown 3 upon us and the last minute U-turn on school closures, it has been a bit of a mentally challenging week. “OMG what is going to happen to nurseries” was my mantra last Sunday and Monday, and luckily the husband hasn’t hit me over the head with an axe for being so stressy about it all.

Whether or not you agree with nurseries and schools being open or closed, it doesn’t change the realities of life for those with children, for those without children who work in education, nor for those who work in education and have children.

I’ve been tentatively making friends with the mum of my son’s best friend at nursery, and as a teacher in one school, with an older child in another school, and the best friend at nursery, talking to her makes me incredibly sympathetic to the constant mental strain our educators are under.

And whilst it is just one area of strain in our society, and perhaps not as critical as our healthcare sector, I’d be loathe to minimise or criticise anyone for speaking out about their professional and personal concerns – even if I really want them to say it is all sunshine and daisies and buttercups.

As for me, well, we got through the first week of nursery after Christmas, and we have one more week to go before the husband’s current contract ends. Worst case scenario right now? Nurseries are shut (bar key workers) Monday and I have to try and juggle work and Rafe for two days. That’s fairly tame.

And why does any of this matter or stress me so? Well, I’m pregnant and ready to pop come the 27th of January, so the idea of managing a newborn and a 2 year and 9 month old child with no nursery fills me with a bit of terror and dread!

Then my wonderful and adorable husband Sam tries to reassure me with the fact he has no work after next week, so can look after Rafe while I work for a few more weeks, and then will definitely be around to hit the ground running with Rafe for whenever I pop! And we get to have a support bubble for when he does get a new contract!

Lovely! Let’s just ignore the fact that we are going from a 1.5 income household to a no income household! Woop de do!

BUT. We have savings because we are boring and responsible, and because that’s what you should do when you have a mortgage and two children (nearly). So it is all FINE. IT’S FINE. FINE. FINE. FINE. Blah blah blah.

Oh that feels better.

I think there is a definite correlation between why I’ve not blogged since the end of Lockdown 1 and the start of Lockdown 3… LOLz.

Anyway, on a less whiny note, let’s share a few photos of the fun things we did do in 2020, and let’s repeat a better mantra ad infinitum:

IT WILL BE FINE, AND WE HAVE VACCINES NOW.

Port Lympne Reserve – June
Goodrich Castle – July
Even though we missed a million swimming lessons last year,
Rafe learnt to swim with a wobble while on holiday in Ross-on-Wye – July
Great great aunt Audrey – September
Friends – October

Back at Nursery

My last three history focused posts were pretty much a direct response to how I was feeling after the murder of US citizen George Floyd on the 26th of May.

Self education is key, and I found the process of writing about historical conflicts and events a useful way to process the somewhat overwhelming sense of uselessness I initially felt. Which is obviously a very lucky position to be. I get to feel, others just die.

But, to keep my brain more uplifted, I’ve also spent time getting excited about Rafe Going Back to Nursery. And this is something to rejoice in. And rejoice I have.

Today was his third week back, and he’s just having a ball. He’s getting covered in paint every day, spending time with other children, and picking up a ton of new phrases every week. It is amazing.

I’m so grateful that his nursery have opened their doors to the children of non-key workers, and I’m so happy that they seem to be doing okay after having to furlough a number of their staff.

Roll on tomorrow for more paint!

Reconstruction: America After The Civil War

With the end of the American Civil War in 1865, a period known as the Reconstruction era came to the forefront of American life. Initially beginning in 1863 with Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, the era continued until 1877 when Ulysses S. Grant left presidential office.

The era focused on the civil rights of black people, the enfranchisement of freedmen, and the reforms expected in the former Confederate states. As well as gains for the black populace, the era featured a huge amount of violence with riots, massacres and lynchings a regular occurence, plus the establishment of the Klu Klux Klan.

An agent of the Freedmen’s Bureau adjudicates a dispute during Reconstruction (The Nation)

After watching Ken Burns: The Civil War I really wanted to learn what came next, but was unable to find any documentaries on the subject. And reading a Wikipedia entry will only get you so far…

A year or so later however, I was watching The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and a historian called Henry Louis Gates Jr was on the show to discuss a new PBS series he had produced called Reconstruction: America After The Civil War. This got me very excited!

I managed to find a PBS station to watch some of it, but then my access expired. This was very disappointing as it was a completely fantastic documentary, and it was just amazing to discover that there were black congressmen in the 19th century – it seemed so contradictory to everything I had learnt previously.

Recently I decided to try and find it on YouTube, and was very pleased to discover that some kind souls had uploaded all 4 episodes. I’m still to finish episode 4 at the moment, but the series is just as revelatory and educational as it was last year.

It is definitely one to watch if you want to learn how and why racism and white supremacy seem so firmly entrenched in American society.

There is also a book accompanying the series, and Stony the Road takes the reader from slavery, through Reconstruction, and to the 20th century. It’s on my reading list for sure.

The American Civil War

Following on from my previous post on Yugoslavia and Milosevic, another documentary we watched in 2018 was Ken Burns: The Civil War, focusing on the American Civil War of 1861 to 1865. Over 11 hours in duration, it is very very detailed, and not for the faint-hearted.

Using the power of photography as its base, the series graphically details each stage of the war, and really connects you to the stories of the politicians, soldiers and civilians involved in a conflict based on a man’s right to own slaves – or not.

And if you are wondering why it began in 1861, or the 12th of April 1861 to be precise, this date was only a few short months after the election of Abraham Lincoln on the 6th of November 1860. Lincoln ran on a platform “opposed [to] the expansion of slavery into the territories”, and with his election, the Southern States began to secede from the Union – the first being South Carolina on the 20th of December 1860. By the time of his inauguration on the 4th of March 1961, 7 states had already ceded, and less than 6 weeks later the first shots were fired.

Interestingly, Lincoln wasn’t opposed to slavery in its entirety at first, the full quote (shown partially above) should actually read as: “he opposed the expansion of slavery into the territories but did not favor the abolition of slavery in slave states”. Clearly, even a partial anti-slavery policy was enough for the Southern States to turn their back on the Union.

My key takeaway from the series was the ‘Lost Cause of the Confederacy’. This ideology teaches people that the war was not about slavery, but that it was about ‘states’ rights’. One could argue, however wrong, that such a nostalgic revisionist history of the war might help a group of people deal with the realities of being on the losing side of a war where between 620,000 and 750,000 people died, with much of the South’s infrastructure destroyed.

Oddly (you might think), this ideology didn’t gain much traction until the 1890s when the Civil War generation was starting to die out, and when the United Daughters of the Confederacy was formed. One of their keys aims was to erect monuments and memorials to Civil War generals, and their success with this, and other initiatives, helped to propagate the Lost Cause myth throughout the 20th century.

Learning about the Lost Cause helped me to understand recent events and protests about the use of confederate statues and flags in the Southern United States. One group views the objects as symbolic of oppression and the rise of white supremacy, the other group co-opts the objects into symbols of their ‘righteous fight’ against change, and their desire to recapture what once was.

If you would like learn more, and please do, the programme is currently available on Amazon Prime (it was on Netflix in 2018). And to whet your historical appetite, you can find the first episode on YouTube:

If historial fiction is more your bag, then I would thoroughly recommend Gettysburg. It is fantastic and harrowing and has a brilliant cast, and it is definitely not as jingoistic as the trailer suggests. Go watch:

Yugoslavia and Milosevic

In the early weeks after Rafe’s birth, Sam and I spent a lot of time watching historical documentaries. We found them much easier to focus on than a film or series (not quite sure why now), so we would watch portions of episodes at a time while looking after Rafe.

I remember watching the RAF at 100 with Ewan and Colin McGregor of all things, which was fun, but nowhere near as engrossing as The Death of Yugoslavia and The Fall of Milosevic.

The Yugoslav Wars are just at the edge of my memory as they started when I was little and I never followed their progression as I became a teenager. I barely registered a conflict just the other side of Italy, and it is only now thanks to the above documentaries that I know what happened.

I’m loathe to make any grand statements or conclusions about the conflict, instead I would urge you watch the documentaries if you can. Both are made by the same production team, the first won awards, and interview footage from the same was even used at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

If you don’t have the time, here is a 16 minute summary on the topic by WonderWhy:

I love history. I love how it gives me context and a sense of my place in the world. Learning about history empowers people to think about their thoughts, decisions and actions, and should hopefully encourage them to consider how they want to represent themselves in society.

To conclude, here are two quotes from people smarter than I:

The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.

GEorge orwell

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

George Santayana

Twitter

I spent a lot of last weekend’s Bank Holiday reading about Dominic Cummings, and his trips to Durham and Barnard Castle. Most of my reading was done on Twitter, with the BBC and a variety of tweeted articles thrown in for good measure.

It was enjoyable in some ways, but it was also all-consuming and dumb. Obsessing over a news story is not helpful, or healthy. It also makes you quite a bore to your husband, and he was irritated with me constantly checking my timeline.

By Monday I think a bit of news fatigue had set in as I started to lose interest in the story. And given there has been no resignation or sacking, what’s the point of giving an actual shit about the situation. No-one in the government seems to actually care one toss about what happened, and how it comes across to the general public, so what is the point of me retweeting statements from aggrieved Conservative MPs.

Obviously, herein lies the rub, if I grow tired of the story and ‘move on’ as Dear Leader would like us to, then they win. Therefore, it is probably best to conclude that we are all fucked. 😠

I probably won’t stop reading Twitter though, for one there isn’t enough to do at the moment, and for two, if we don’t keep complaining then they definitely do win. I just need to remember to take a break from the incessant refreshing, particularly when my son and husband are about.

And don’t drive to test your eyesight.

Going Back to Nursery

On the 12th of May my son’s nursery emailed to say we could request a place for our son to go back to nursery (if we wished). Neither of us are key workers, and my freelance job ended in March, so we don’t need the two days per se, but I decided to request a space while making it clear that we don’t expect Rafe to be prioritised over a child with working parents/carers.

A few days later I was really excited to have his usual days confirmed, and we have started talking to him about going back. We will be crossing our fingers and toes, and hoping that all goes well, as he’s effectively starting again. 😬

Not all parents will be comfortable sending their children to school or nursery, but given the data on Coronavirus deaths in the young, and school reports from other EU countries like Denmark, the husband and I don’t feel worried about sending him back. And to be honest, at this point, I’m thinking more about his social interaction with children of his own age – or the lack of.

I’ve been trying to find clear government guidance (hahaha), or a scholarly article on the importance of social interaction for children, and frustratingly I’ve got a bit stuck. However, the Mental Health Foundation states the following:

As children grow up, their ability to form and sustain relationships – be that with peers, parents, teachers etc. is crucial.

… If we can make sure that babies, children and young people are able to form and maintain positive relationships in ways that make sense to them, then this will help get them off to a good start in life and support their mental development.

Paula Lavis, Co-ordinator of the Children and Young People’s Mental Health Coalition

And that is pretty much how I feel – the pros definitely outweigh the cons.

I’ve also been inspired by Professor Karol Sikora‘s calm demeanor and positive attitude regarding the pandemic, and more recently the debate about schools reopening.

I started following him on Twitter a month or so ago and he’s been a real breath of fresh air on my timeline – and I know that my mental health needs a good dose of positivity to counteract the whirling negativity I’ve be prone recently. There is always a fine balance between reading the news and drowning in the news…

From a selfish point of view, I’m also really looking forward to some me time. Not couple time or family time, or ‘steal an hour here or there on the weekend’ time, actual ME time. Doing the washing up while the husband plays with the child is not me time. Driving down to the post office and standing in a queue is not really me time. Even the excitement of fortnightly trip to the supermarket is wearing off a little…

But what do I do with the time? I must make plans! And I must leave the house! Watch this space… 😊

To Groclock or Not To Groclock

Towards the end of April we moved Rafe into his ‘big boy bed’, and it has been a great success! 🥳

My main worry about moving him was that he would climb out of bed and start banging on his door… and this does happen, but thankfully not until “the sun comes up” – and I think we have the Groclock to thank!

Launched by The Gro Company in 2009, the Groclock allows you to set a wake up time so a child knows when they are allowed to get up. Obviously children have to be of a certain age to understand time, so the Groclock uses images of the sun and stars to delineate the passing of time.

The clock also comes with a book called Sleepy Farm, it tells the story of Percy Pig and his grumpiness because he’s not getting enough sleep – and guess what, he gets a Groclock to help! 😀

We’ve set ours for 7am, and every evening at 8pm we activate the clock and say “night night sun, hi stars”, and “remember not to get up before the sun comes up”, and we think it more or less works as our sleep has been pretty decent this past month.

Yesterday morning he woke at 6am, made more noise at 6.30am, but given we fell asleep again both times, he was obviously just chilling in bed or playing. Come 6.55am he started whining and calling “cuddle Daddy” which is pretty standard, and 5 minutes later Sam went in to get him.

If every morning continues like this, I would say it is a successful clock!

But I reserve the right to bin the thing if Rafe ignores it once we start potty training and have to leave his door open…

Local Food Heroes

Now we are in the ninth week of lockdown, and a lot of us are fairly used to our new lives, it’s possible that we might gloss over the early days of lockdown, and think it wasn’t actually that stressful, and that things aren’t so dramatically different from ‘LIFE BEFORE THE COVID’.

That assessment is probably incorrect… it is significantly different, and it will be a long time before things are back to how they were… presuming that day WILL come. 😬

So, to things that have made my life and other people’s lives better… the local food heroes in my area.

The VeryGreen Grocer

Based in Shooters Hill, The VeryGreen Grocer has been delivering to homes in South East London since 2010. Run by Mike, Mike, Barbara and Simone, their vans deliver groceries, dairy and bread every week, Monday to Friday.

Luckily for us, the husband had registered as a new customer 3 weeks before lockdown, and we started getting a weekly delivery at the end of March. The company stopped accepting new customers for a while due to demand from far and wide, but we were very reassured by their tweets explaining their new ordering process.

Things seem to have settled down since March and customers can now order through their site as usual. And they are now accepting new customers, so do email them your address and postcode if you would like an account, and the team will respond.

Below is the box we had delivered at beginning of April – full of lovely tasty good things, and we’ve been reminding ourselves how to eat in order of freshness. I’ve also had a lot of fun looking up BBC Good Food recipes to work out what to cook with what we have, and I’ve become a big fan of cabbage – which I never expected! Blame Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

We are still doing a big shop at Sainsbury’s every fortnight, but we are keeping up a weekly fruit and veg order, and are very happy to continue to support the VeryGreen family.

The Plumstead Pantry

Usually a cafe on Plumstead Common, The Plumstead Pantry has converted itself into a bakery cum grocer cum delivery service over the past two months. The owners Ash and Julia also used crowdfunding to help with the conversion, and were able to raise over £5,000 in just 14 days.

I wasn’t really aware of the business until April as I’ve only driven through Plumstead Common a few times, but I saw a tweet from a local friend about the cafe, and after a good nosey at their Twitter and Facebook, it turned out they were having regular deliveries of plain flour. At the time we had nearly run out, and as the flour shelves were/are usually empty at Sainsburys, the husband was very keen to get some!

After buying 2kg of plain flour, plus 1kg for our friends, we have since branched out into tin loaves and their very scrumptious cinnamon buns – they drip with sweetness and are just heavenly.

As well as their 1 in, 1 out policy at the cafe (with beautiful views across the Common), you can also pre-order goods for collection or delivery. Delivery is free within SE18 and surrounding areas, and there is a handy WhatsApp button on their Facebook page if you want to place an order (DMs on Twitter are also used).

And many thanks to Julia for not ringing the doorbell when delivering, Rafe nap time is sacred! 😊

(Image: The Plumstead Pantry, Facebook)

Old Cottage Coffee Shop Cafe

We used to live in Charlton and one of my favourite haunts was the Old Cottage Coffee Shop Cafe in Charlton Park. I still visit before Monday music at Charlton House, and do I love having a jacket potato with bacon and cheese while Rafe wriggles about with his own lunch.

Every Christmas the cafe organises a Christmas Day lunch for the elderly, and since Coronavirus closed their doors, Michael and Mimi have been cooking and delivering food to those unable to leave their homes. Based on their tweets, they are delivering lunches to at least 20 people 3 times a week. Amazing! If you can help with the lunch deliveries, please contact Michael.

Hopefully we will all be back there soon!

(Image: Old Cottage Coffee Shop Cafe, Twitter)

The Red Lion

Since a new management team took over in 2019, The Red Lion has been aiming for a more family friendly vibe. A few months ago I went with my husband, son and in-laws for an early evening meal, we had a great time, and we all really enjoyed the food.

While the pub is closed, Danny Brooker and his team have been supporting a number of individuals, NHS hospitals, care homes and hospices in the local area.

Funds are being raised through crowdfunding, and hundreds of meals are being prepared at each cooking session. A separate team are then organising and delivering the food. Super super impressive, and a wonderful thing to read about.

Another local spot I want to visit again soon!

(Image: The Red Lion at Shootershill, Facebook)

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