Coming soon….

So, I have lots of ideas of stuff I’d like to include in this blog. One is a series of posts on the ‘best of Bristol’….and wherever else we happen to hang out. There are so many amazing places we’ve discovered, some obvious and some more obscure. I also recently asked on my personal Facebook page for people to offer suggestions on their favourite quirky/mainstream/outdoor/indoor/old/new places, and I’ve got a few new ideas from there as well. I like the idea of my blog being able to help other families/individuals find new places to adore and explore!

Speaking of Facebook, the blog does have a Facebook page. Every blog update is posted there, plus one or two thoughts/pictures a day. I’d like to have another enriching way to while away my time, so please do click and like it! (And share. Ha.)

I’m also getting back into the world of Twitter. My username there is @alisonmariemay and I welcome meeting new people, as well as chatting to old friends.

The other thing I’m thinking of adding to this blog are some posts on babywearing, if anyone would find that useful? Once upon a time, I had a popular(ish) blog on babywearing twins, and I’ve got some popular(ish) videos on youtube showing how to do various carries for both singletons, twins, or two children of different ages. Is that something you guys would like? I’ve got loads of posts I can transfer over, maybe one every couple of weeks? I have a Facebook page for babywearing twins that I don’t add anything to anymore, but people are still joining. So I suspect there may be a few mums/dads of multiples interested in the subject!

I was borderline obsessive about babywearing back when my two were younger, so again, the idea of sharing such a great thing with other people would bring me joy.

Is there anything else you would like to see? Or questions you would like me to answer? Ideas for blog posts? Please don’t be shy.

When M and S were under a year old, I had a lot of time to be online. Everyone says the first year of twins is comparable to hell on earth, but I loved it. They slept a lot, usually on me, and I twittered and tweeted my time away! And when they were awake, well, it was mostly loads of fun and firsts.

I don’t know what happened. Ages 1, 2, and 3 seemed to hit me for a loop. Every day feels so busy and intense, and when Suzy gets home I tend to run away and hide upstairs….far far away from wanting to blog. Age 3, though, is when some of life started returning to normal. We actually celebrated Halloween and did projects/crafts/stuff around various holidays. Prior to pretty recently, as my dear wife says, we had time for very little. Nothing extra, only survival.

Age four is looking pretty awesome, I have to say.

I think blogging is coming back for me, which hopefully is a good sign that I’m getting some time and space (emotional, not just physical) back to myself to use in ways I find enriching.


I’ll be blogging soon, and don’t forget to leave suggestions/questions/comments below. They’ll be a help!


Play is the most basic human way to learn, to be, to experience joy.

We met some families at a local place this afternoon. One of the benefits of being a home educator is having great museums, local attractions, etc all be crowd free during school hours, so my heart sank a bit when a school group of thirty kids walked into the reception area. Our plan was to head to the soft play first, and I imagined all the ‘big kids’ totally dominating the space.

When we showed our membership card, I hesitantly inquired to see if the staff member knew the school group’s schedule, so we could avoid the play area when they were there. She brightly said, ‘Oh, don’t worry. They are here to do only educational things, so they won’t be doing any playing.’

Things we (meaning any of the three adults and seven children in our little group) learned today while just playing:

the definition of friction
What happens on a slide of you are barefoot or in socks? Is it easier to go up or down with bare or socked feet?

A boy in our group desperately wanted to attempt the death slide, but found it too scary. With us cheering him on and his mum offering some physical help, he did it. It took a lot of false starts, a lot of courage, and some clever adaptations and he succeeded like a champ.

trust and friendship between ages
M also wanted to go on the above slide, and did so with the help of his grown up friend. She held her toddler on her lap, and M’s hand, and both boys had HUGE smiles on. M went down the slide three times with her, happy to take the steep leap of faith and joy while trusting another human to be there with him.

what an allergic reaction looks like
I was asked this in regards to M, as someone was eating something with sesame in and wondered what would happen to M if he had any. We talked about hives, swelling, airway constriction, and what would happen if any of this stuff occurred.

Death slides with friends, chasing each other, racing down not so scary slides.

The kids needed to work out how to share two tractors that had no power source. This proved no problem, and they took turns riding and pushing each other.

Balls from the ball pit were diamonds. Various colours were worth more or less, the ballpit alternated between a cave and a deep diving pool, people pretended to be miners or animals guarding the diamonds.

physical dexterity
Trying and accomplishing new feats, sometimes on their own, sometimes with advice or encouragement for others.

dealing with hurt feelings
One child was confused and hurt by the actions of others. They had to talk through their hurt, and the others involved needed to understand why they had hurt someone, and how to reassure that person it wouldn’t happen again.

What does that sign say? Does this sign say this?! I knew because of the picture, and there was an R and I know what sound that makes.

How do we divvy up the diamonds fairly? If only two people are allowed on the big slide at once and there are three of us, how can we suck another person in to our game so no one goes alone?

self belief
My ideas are good ones. I will try them out. Others might like them and join in, or they might not. I’m having fun. I can try this new idea and see what happens. I’m awesome. And if I need help, I know I can ask without getting laughed at or ridiculed.

basic tasks
Can I get these waterproof trousers off alone? If I cry will someone help me? Is it possible to actually do this thing? (Yes!)

I can choose to play alone, with one other child, with lots of my friends, with the grown ups. This can vary throughout the day, depending on my mood. I can choose what I want to do and who I want to do it with.

My friends are all different ages. They all have unique quirks, and my relationship with each of them is different. Some are grown ups, and I get frustrated when they want to talk to each other (!), but this is part of learning to respect other people’s friendships, as well.

I worked on colouring this picture for a half hour, and I made it for you. (I, Alison, was given an amazing picture by a child, and it will be going up in our kitchen! Our whole house is full of blue tacked pictures and projects stuck to the wall and hanging from the ceiling, and each one is valued. They are even more special when given in friendship!)


I could go on and on. Literally probably for the next hour. Playing, and the use of imagination and conversation, encompasses so many things without even trying. And it stitches them all together so effortlessly and with such joy. It is impossible to be engaged in play without learning, often on a very deep level.

Play is a miracle.

Trying to be as strong as I want my children to be.

Driving along in the car, and suddenly his voice pipes up from the back seat. ‘I don’t want to die.’

I don’t know how to respond to that. I say, ‘Well, most people don’t. But you are very young and healthy, so you are okay.’

Growing up, my grandmother talked about death a lot – specifically, her own death. She was/is a tremendous force in my life, so her constant death talk worried me a lot. She was famous for saying, ‘When I die, I don’t want anybody crying. Or I will sit right up in my coffin and punch them in the nose!’ As it turns out, she was cremated so no one was punched….though after her ashes were buried with all the sentimental things thrown in, the graveyard guy said we have to take her out and put some special sticker on the urn. I shit you not. So out came her ashes, while we all had a laugh. Who knows. Maybe she was trying to give us a solid whack from beyond.

I remember being little and compulsively praying over and over again. ‘Dear God, Please let Mom, Dad, me, and Erica live a long, long time.’ Literally over and over. I think it’s safe to say I suffered from death anxiety, which was exacerbated by my grandmother making me write lists of who would get what jewellery/possessions when she died. Incidentally, she lived till she was 89 and I was in my mid-twenties, so it was a long time to deal with her comments about her death.

When she did die, I went to a very black place. I couldn’t move. I had extended leave from work, felt I was having a breakdown, and shortly thereafter entered the counselling required by my counselling/psychotherapy course. I’d been putting off trying to contact a counsellor, and the bereavement gave me a very real reason to move forward with it.

She died what feels like an impossibly long time ago, and I’m now at a place where I can tell the kids about Grandma Annie and feel nostalgia, love, bittersweetness rather than just feeling like I would crumble if I thought about her.

Death was a big topic when I trained to become a counsellor, and I became quite interested in a specialist area known as existential psychotherapy. It is what it sounds like. I read a lot of Yalom (read him now, folks!), did a lot of thinking, processed through a lot of writing.

Then recently, I had a spate of people my age getting ill, and some even dying. One died very unexpectedly, and I was in shock for about a week. This sort of kicked off my death anxiety again (and having children seems to amplify it), even as I try to allow myself to feel what I feel, and still be okay. And I am okay, but I’ve got one little boy who is very worried.

When my mother in law casually mentioned her flowers dying last autumn, things kicked off. He talked incessantly about not wanting them to die. About wanting the exact same flowers to come back next spring. S soon joined in the questions about death – you see, my fabulous sister recently moved to the UK and the kids have been lucky enough to see quite a bit of her. She’s got a dog who was the picture of health whilst in America, but is apparently allergic to the UK and was quite unwell.

We happened to be at the library one day, and they wanted me to read a book with a picture of a dog similar to my sister’s on the cover. Of course it was one of those books – a death book. Sweet god, did that kick off the obsessing. We had a very intense few weeks, and then it cooled off.

I am very conscious that I come from a legacy of basically very healthy people who have an unhealthy obsession around death and serious illness. I don’t want to pass that on.

Many friends reassured me that age four is often when death becomes a topic of fascination. And since it seemed to move on, I let their words comfort me. And, indeed, S has become very pragmatic about the whole thing and often provides reassurance to M when he is, as he sometimes says, ‘nervous.’

He asks a lot about my sister’s dog. I don’t want her to die. Will Erica get a new dog? Will she be sad? I will miss Kiwi.

I know these are all normal questions and processing. He’s working out what he believes, and since I can’t hand him platitudes and comfort in terms of a traditional heaven I do not believe in, it means that he is exposed to more possible uncertainties and ways to think about things than other children may be. I think this is a good thing. I value critical thinking, questioning, exploring the hows and whys of things.

I hope these death worries are something he can process, and not something that he carries forward in life (in an unhealthy way, anyway, since it is natural to think about death and life). I won’t say I was overly affected by my own concerns, beyond the manic praying as a child. My anxiety was triggered by situations that would make anyone think about death, life, about the purpose of things. I am also a bit of what some might term a deep thinker, so that meant I focused more on this stuff. Only time will tell how M and S grow up to think about death, but I know it is causing me a lot of painful growth to try to have honest discussions.

Only this morning we found the most awesome leaf – all the green had rotted away, and only the veins were left. M was concerned about this. He wanted to take the leaf into the house to protect it, to make sure it didn’t blow away. He was upset about the leaf dying. Yet again, I took a deep breath and said, ‘But this is how things work. If the leaves didn’t do this, the whole world would be covered up in loads of leaves and there wouldn’t be room for anything else. The old leaves are going back into the earth to feed new trees.’

New trees upset him. He wanted the same trees.

‘Yes,’ I said. ‘But look at these leaves, they are doing it, too. They make the earth richer and stronger and better able to feed the trees that are here.’

I paused. He nodded, hopped off my lap, and was off running and playing again.

I looked down at this unbelievably gorgeous leaf – it looked so fragile, but the veins were still sturdy. Once again, I was able to hear my own words about the way this life works, and once again, I tried to allow myself to become richer and stronger, too.

Even though sometimes that is a hard thing to do.


We love mud. Usually.

I know you’ve all been waiting with baited breath to see if we went to the woods last Friday. Some of you probably have been unable to sleep, the anticipation was so great.


WE WENT. It was colossally muddy, a bit chilly, and everything was very wet, but it was fab. In a massive forest, and one of those playgrounds that mostly consists of huge stumps, trees on their side, a quirky balance beams. The highlight was, of course, the manic rush through the woods afterwards to hunt a dragon, swords and sticks at the ready.

It was altogether lovely, but I’m still thankful it wasn’t pouring with rain!

I’m still totally embracing damp weather. Our plans yesterday to meet with friends fell through, so we drove to Bath, met Suzy for lunch, and then had a quick play in a park (it had a big slide leading right down to an overflowing river. That bit was awesome!) despite the black clouds swirling overhead. Nature repaid my efforts by not cracking the heavens open until the literal second I’d shut the second kid into the car. Of course I got a bit wet, but hey, I’m a rainy day goddess now. Or something.


Today after pottery, the nine kids and four grown ups in our home ed pottery class all ended up at a friend’s house, after having a quick outdoor play at the pottery teacher’s house. Let it be known, it was not my idea to shun the outdoors today! Had a really lovely time, and we are now back home for some de-muddying and hot chocolate-ing.

I promise this won’t just become a log of what we do each day, but come on. I’ve been trying to recapture my youth, when I lived outdoors with no electricity for five months a year without thinking I lived an odd life. I thought it was a remarkable life, and I was amazingly lucky to be living it.

I’m getting back to that place.


M’s minecraft builds.

‘My head is thinking about playing Minecraft. I could play it all day and all night!’ -M

Top: an amazing bridge he built on his own. And a jazzy library.

Left: He enjoys making planks that lead into lava lakes and making me walk them. But giant swathes of lava and or water are common features in his worlds! The little ice rink was mostly me.

Right: a flipping diving board into a pool! I was just wandering around his world and bumped into this. I didn’t even know he knew what a diving board was as a concept.


He truly excels at rollercoasters (again, often deliberately leading into lava!), underground houses, and has recently started making 2D giant creations ….a huge tree picture I haven’t got a screenshot of is amazing!

Family portrait.

S is really getting into drawing. A few weeks ago, she could suddenly just draw. Mainly a happy face with stick arms and legs, but literally overnight. Since then, she’s spent a lot of time drawing!

Here, clockwise, we are: S in her yellow shirt, M in red, Suzy (looking slightly frantic, if I may say so), and me. She’s put rainbows over us three – and what you can’t see is a lovely border of blue circles all around me.

This is seriously cute.


Stone circles, the zoo, family’s houses, softplay germpits, and…the woods?!


As I wrote my post on Monday, bemoaning the endlessly grey, rainy English weather, the rain miraculously stopped and some weak sun filtered through the clouds.

I tell you, it was action stations. I jumped up from my chair and was like, ‘Let’s go out! Who wants to go out??!?! LET’S DO THIS!’ An hourly weather forecast promised a few rain free hours, so we jumped into the car and went to the zoo.

Let me say this: the hourly weather forecast is a liar. A dirty little liar. Oh, it was bright enough (read, not dark gray) to leave the raincoats in the car and wander far enough into the zoo to not be able to easily return to the car. We sat down in the outdoor eating area, sheltered by a large canopy, and the heavens opened. When it calmed to a drizzle, we carried on.

The height of awesome was running for the meercat house as some sixth sense let me know shit was about to get real. We made it just as a total monsoon hit. It was hot in the meercat house, and being crammed in with the other six people who were braving the zoo made it hotter. The kids asked to go outside.

We did. The roof extends and forms a sort of porch like shelter – which was fine until gale force winds slammed a wall of rain into our shocked faces. We ran back to those meercats like hellhounds were at our heels.

But you know what? We stayed pretty dry. We had an AWESOME time – the zoo was practically empty and we spent ages looking at various animals. It sort of bolstered my going-out-in-the-rain confidence….which is saying something, considering a group of people planning to go spend the day in the woods Friday suggested they stage an intervention for me, since we have yet to make a woods meet up because it is always raining. Always.

Monday was so great that even though I messed up our Tuesday plans, we ended up spending the day at Suzy’s mum’s house. Lots of running around, drawing, building with blocks. Wednesday we met two other families at a local soft play, and the kids had a great time discovering various hidey-holes and running around together.

Today I woke up wedged halfway between wanting to go on an epic adventure versus wanting to remain unshowered and in slippers. I’m trying to find some cooler places in a slightly wider radius, and discovered a mine/caving system that we loosely planned to go to (a continuation of the Minecraft obsession), but we ended up going to a stone circle that, while very near to us, we’d never been to.

I’m in the process of making a list of 100 things to do in 2014, and visiting a new stone circle made it pretty high on the list. So off we went!!

It was fabulous. Lots of mud, tonnes of standing stones, and bizarrely friendly cows that kept approaching us. We were the only people there, and all you could see was rolling hills, a church tower, the occasional house secreted away in the hills. It was amazing. Afterwards we ate lunch in the boot of the car (it’s big, folks) and the kids ran around sans coats.

We came home to no wind and actual sunshine (!), and they were immediately barefoot in the front garden, looking for ants to watch and feed, playing with cars, finding the only remaining daisy. No coats, no sweatshirts, no problem.

So while I started the week upset about our lack of snow and the constant rain, I’m approaching the end thankful for living somewhere with very mild winters.

You’ll be reading this Friday morning, though I’ve written it Thursday night. Friends have threatened to pull up outside our house and honk horns until we emerge to join them for a trip to the forest….so hopefully while you read this, we’ll be staying dry (please god) and exploring a bit of the woods we’ve never seen before.

I hope your weeks have been incredible. We have a new tradition of evening dance parties and I tell you, this whole dancing to various songs of my youth in the evenings and going out in the day despite the weather….it makes for a good time.


What friendship looks like to us.

It’s not notes passed between seats, or allocated bits of time to play. Nor is it seeing our best friends (or worst enemies!) every day.

Friendship is running wild, wooden swords clutched in the hands of every child. It’s being half naked at the zoo, splashing in the stream or chasing pigeons. Friendship is bouncing on beds, and rolling down hills, and building towers out of rocks in a shallow river.

It’s holding hands and spinning in a group circle in a (decidedly not very hot) hot tub, to see if we can make the water current strong enough to keep whirling us when we lift our feet up.

It’s helping each other down when someone is stuck at the top of a five story soft play and is weeping because she can’t get down. It’s eating biscuits in the rain, in the garden of your pottery class. It’s running in circles at gymnastics, laughing and making everyone else laugh, too.

Friendship is crawling under the hole in that one fence. It’s being able to be naked, or wear your pajamas, or dress up in any variety of costume and have your friends not bat an eye. It can be sitting next to each other on the couch, trying to beat a tricky Angry Birds level.

It is increasingly wild roughhousing, or being pirates on the top bunk of someone’s bed, or poking fungus with a stick. Entering pumpkin carving competitions and painting faces. Holding hands at the farm and stomping in mud.

We dance at the front of churches holding free concerts (even when our mama feels uncomfortable and a mean old man grumps at us), we hide in bedrooms and stage huge wars, we watch favourite cartoons together.

Friendship is your friend giving up her pushchair to allow you to be pushed when you’ve just broken your collarbone. It’s someone coming over to check you are okay when they see you crying. It is holding hands and spinning, it is chasing, it is watching dance recitals given to an audience of four.

It’s hunting for Gromits, looking at fake brains, playing in tubes of starlight, dressing up as animals. Sending each other texts when the only thing we can halfway reliably write is our name. Emailing each other pictures we think the other people might like.

It’s climbing up the world’s longest slide. Sharing scooters. Eating popsicles in the garden, sun beaming down in the instant before you decide to jump in the paddling pool. It’s trying new things, and going back to old things, and doing it together.

But the key is doing it when we want to. Seeing our friends when we all want to and have the time, doing things we enjoy and people have chosen to do. Spending hours, and sometimes whole days, with the people we want to be with.  Being friends with people because we like each other, and I’ll tell you: friendship is something we treasure.

It’s beginning to look a lot like floodmas.

When we first moved to this house/city, we had one week of blistering sun and heat. Then it rained for seven straight weeks. It was kind of awful. I didn’t have a car, we didn’t know anyone, and we didn’t live close enough to anywhere to walk. Busses were available, but in the steady, driving rain the walks to and from bus stops seemed less than appealing.

Last week it started raining. It rained every single day, aside from the day we got in the car and it refused to start. That day we did use our feet, romping along the high street, playing in the library, and soaking up vitamin D. It’s been raining every day since then.

Rain in the winter seems particularly glum to me. I’m from a part of America that gets days off school and work because it gets too cold. Yeah. Sure, they get their snow days (having one right now, if my gleeful Facebook feed can be trusted), but sometimes the air is so cold that warnings are issued not to go out with any bare skin for more than a minute or two, and not to let livestock out.

That is winter to me. I don’t remember ever being too cold. Or this rain – rain, rain, wet wet endless rain. We had SNOW, bitches. Feet of snow. I learned to drive when there would be two tire tracks cut into the snow, and you’d had to go slowly and use your car as a snowplow to push the build up of snow from between the tracks aside.

The kids obviously have grown up here. They’ve been in Michigan once for winter, but at a resounding four months old, it’s safe to say they have no memories of that sort of weather. Yet they keep asking me if it is really winter without snow. How Christmas could have existed without snow. These are kids who are happy to believe Santa can enter our house through a fake fire – they create all these worlds, yet they are still somehow hardwired to wonder where the snow is.

We tend to get one or two days of snow a year. It hangs around for up to a week (in other parts of the UK, they get more snow, but still not comparable to Michigan!), and we typically have a day or so to pull sleds through four inches of snow. To freeze our feet off, to have hot chocolate, to make clumsy snowmen with plastic yogurt pot hats.

I wish we had snow today. It makes staying in more cozy, more acceptable, more inevitable. Because I tell you, folks, the nineteen year old me who lived outdoors with no electricity in a tent/wooden room with screens for windows, the one who could live and play with forty kids outside all day long no matter the weather, she is gone. She has been replaced by a woman who packs crazy amounts of outer gear for a simple outing.

Heavy raincoats, lightweight raincoats. Winter coats, fleeces, boots, shoes, hats, scarves, and on and on and on. Because I don’t know what the weather is going to do. Even though it is ALWAYS OKAY no matter what I do or do not pack (except that time I may have convinced someone to pee a la fresco, promised them I’d not let it get everywhere, and it ended up soaking their clothes), I still cram everything we could need into the car….if I manage to talk myself into going outside in inclement weather in the first place.

Rain in the summer is one thing. It’s warm and seasonally appropriate.

Rain in the winter, when your fingers are already tingling and halfway to falling off (yes, it is radically warmer here than Michigan – a day in the lower 40s F feels freezing to me, whereas at my mom’s house it’s been -20F without windchill this week), and then getting soggy? SO miserable.

And the thing about cities is carparks. Carparks and rain, or nowhere to park and rain, it’s gross. All of it is gross. I need to find some places outside of the city to go explore in this weather. We like quirky museums – seriously spent a good chunk of time at a horse and carriage exhibition museum at our last place, not to mention thrice weekly trips to a Royal Air Force museum. Tell me where you people go!

And don’t say the woods.

I love the woods, and when I see my friends’ pictures on facebook of their kids dressed in full body rain gear, riding horses or building dens or whatever the hell adventures they get up to, I sigh. We are in pajamas and I keep casting glances at the windows. I have slippers on, the kids are making magnets, asking to bake cake, playing some elaborate game in their pop up castle.

While I don’t want to go outside in bad weather (lest you think I exaggerate, our city has been flooding for the past few days!), I get so tired of being inside. Luckily, the kids like being at home and have endless ideas of stuff to do. If only they can put up with the edging-towards-middle-aged woman in the corner, looking up winter raincoats on ebay while wrapped in a fleecy blanket.