Month: December 2013

An expat Christmas twice over, with some outdoor fun

Any expat will understand that Christmas (that is if it is a holiday that means something to you) is hard away from your home. This year, our first Christmas in Santa Barbara, California, USA, could have been twice as hard – particularly for my British husband and I. We spent our growing up years, till our early twenties, enjoying Christmas festivities in the UK. From then on, we adapted to life in New Zealand – and brought three New Zealand born daughters into the world. We learned a whole new way to celebrate Christmas, southern hemisphere style. We adopted new family traditions, whilst telling our children how we grew up celebrating Christmas in the winter of the UK. We spent hours on Skype with family half a planet away, celebrating Christmas morning, whilst we finished our Christmas Day and turned in for bed.

Christmas become one we celebrated around the BBQ and picnic table in the garden, rather than the dining table in a centrally heated home, and we quickly ditched vegetables for salad, turkey for chicken on the BBQ, and christmas pudding for pavlova. We kept the mince pies, exchanged glazed cherries for fresh strawberries and blueberries. We left Christmas dinner till the evening, and spent lunch at the beach (if the weather played in our favour – southern hemisphere summer in Wellington, New Zealand, isn’t as dependable as Bondi Beach, Sydney, or tropical Queensland, Australia!).

In New Zealand, with daylight beyond 9pm, we ditched fairy lights for mirror balls, that caught the sunlight, and decorated the garden with bunting and wind socks.

This year, in Santa Barbara, we were placed in between, with darkness at 5pm we could go all out on the fairy lights, but the blue sky of sunny California by day allowed us to enjoy some fun outdoors, by the pool and in the sunshine – a mix of both our known worlds.

Of course, family and friends really are what make for a merry Christmas, and we could have easily felt lost this year. Thankfully my dear folks come over from England, arriving a week before Christmas Day, to help aid the festive spirit and make us feel grounded in our new abode. Our children have thrived having the grandparents for extra company. The man of the house took time off. It has been all about family, fun and making the most of every moment. We felt in the present, not weighted down with ‘what might have been’. We dived in the swimming pool, soaked in the spa, lunched at the golf club and enjoyed the festive lights along Santa Barbara’s ‘State Street’.

Christmas in Santa Barbara 2013

Christmas has been wonderful this year, despite being away from our home in Wellington, New Zealand. We have felt more connected, in a strange way, being geographically placed between the UK and New Zealand. We have enjoyed the extended celebrations of being a good 20 hours behind New Zealand’s Christmas celebrations, 8 hours behind the UK and finally seeing in our own Christmas. Instead of making us feeling further away, the time differences have allowed us to watch the unfolding events of dear friends and family, and then enjoy our own. It’s been different, of course, but not difficult.

We are feeling so much more positive about what the New Year will bring. Change is never easy, but it brings unknown surprises, lessons and strengths. For everything we miss, we have gained. For everyone we miss, we are thankful for the modern day world keeping us connected and the memories of great times we’ve shared with them. For everything yet to be, we are more positive and feel stronger to adapt and be flexible. Bring on the New Year… which we are seeing in with my dear folks in the vibrant and beautiful city of San Diego!

Wishing you all the best for 2014 too and hope it brings with it positivity, good health, happy days and plenty of memorable moments.

Sarah xx

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Now go check out the outdoor fun that so many other wonderful folk have enjoyed over the past week….

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

Merry Christmas from Santa Barbara!

Christmas in Santa Barbara is a wonderful place to be, with sunshine and blue sky by day, and a festive feel by nightfall at 5pm.

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Every tree trunk along State Street is snaked in white fairy lights, the shop windows and restaurants are decorated with class, style and an abundance of sparkles.

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There is nothing tacky or over the top, this is a place of distinction and class. The atmosphere is happy, not hurried or overwhelming. There are no pushy shoppers or crowded streets, but there are plenty of smiles, groups of singers, trumpeters and festive balloon makers. Even the bronze statues are happy (well a good candy stick can do that!)…

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It has been a really lovely place to be in the festive build up and that’s even without participating in any of the various events that have been listed in the local paper. We’ve simply enjoyed being together and sharing this time, first with our NZ friends at the beginning of the month and now with my dear parents visiting from England.

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We’ve also had seasonal colds and coughs, to slow us down – but that’s to be expected, with temperatures reaching highs in the mid-twenties (degrees C) by day and dropping below ten at night. Pretty pleasant weather by all accounts here!

The final days building up to Christmas have been all about spending time together (sharing germs and swapping hankies!), drinking jolly good red wine (medicinal of course!) and wrapping presents in locked rooms. We are all very much looking forward to sharing Christmas Day with all the merriment that comes with family life, three excited children and wonderful Grandparents.

For me personally, having my parents here with us is the best present of all. I would have felt quite lost without them.

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As it is, we feel as though our Christmas has been stretched out as we share, via the Internet, the celebrations of friends in New Zealand and Australia, and then wake Christmas morning to be 8 hours behind our UK family and friends. We shall be the last to celebrate this year, quite a novel feeling after over a decade of being the first in the world to get a visit from the man in the red suit 😉

So, Merry Christmas to all, wherever & however you are celebrating xx

 

A place with no real weather | Prose for Thought

Dare I say, ‘I’m getting used to this place’?

Where the weather barely changes –
apart from the length of light in a day.
Where clouds are cause for exclamation –
and rain is a rare, yet welcome, distraction.

I’ve come from a place that knows big weather,
where a person learns to dress in layers.
Four seasons in one day are quite the norm –
and umbrellas are found frequently torn.

Where the wind rushes through the changes –
faster than the met office can print pages.
People look to the sky and feel the air –
their bodies move with elemental care.

We’ve been here four months and seen rain twice,
I still open the curtains and exclaim –
‘It’s a lovely day, look at that blue sky!’

My British upbringing has strong roots.
My mother’s voice still whispers in my head,
‘Get out in the sun, make the most of it!’

My children are quicker to embrace the new.
Responding to my pleas to ‘get out!’ with,
‘Mum! It’ll still be blue tomorrow!’.

We can plan parties outdoors, without care –
I can let go of ‘Plan B’, in the past I wouldn’t dare!
There are no need for things to weigh everything down,
tarpaulins, indoor venues and frowns.

Do I miss the drama and surprise?
Do I miss the spontaneity –
of going with the weather, changing plans,
in a moment, day by day, hour by hour?

Do I miss the smell of the air after rain?
Days when a walk down the road was a battle –
when the warm car, or cafe, held great appeal,
from where I could wait out the storm and watch –

Maybe I do, maybe I don’t –
Most days I’m happy to wake to the blue.
But in a vacuum of sameness –
do I really feel alive?

Maybe I need to find new ways to feel –
let go of my emotional tie to weather –
go with the sameness and embrace it.

It won’t be forever, this time, this place.
There will be years ahead in lands of weather.
For sure, I’ll look back and yearn for this –
So, come on girl, get used to it!

There are far more important things in life,
than harping on about the weather!!

© Sarah Lee, December 2013

Santa Barbara

For anyone that doesn’t know me – I’m British born, but have spent the past seventeen years living in Wellington, New Zealand. I am currently living in sunny Santa Barbara, California, where there isn’t really any ‘big weather’! My British roots and my time living in ‘windy’ Wellington have made me rather ‘weather focused’… so living somewhere without ‘big weather’ is taking a little getting used to (as lovely as it is too!).

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Prose for Thought

Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree… | The Photo Gallery

It’s been many years since we’ve seen so many Christmas trees in the build up to Christmas. Visiting Disneyland in the festive season was, as you’d imagine, mind-blowing in a sensory overload of lights, baubles, ribbon, glitter and a touch of fake snow – even in sunny southern California – for good measure.

Disneyland California Christmas Trees

It’s also the first time, in well over a decade, that we’ve spent Christmas in the northern hemisphere, with the daylight fading by 5pm. Everywhere we turn there are Christmas lights wrapped around tree trunks, adorning houses and shops. I daren’t think too much of the electricity usage – I just hope the sun is being put to good use with multiple solar panels to channel the light to make the light! There’s certainly enough blue sky days throughout winter to put solar panels to good use.

Disneyland California by day, and by night, was equally magical.

Disneyland Christmas cheer

Our own little Christmas tree, here in Santa Barbara, is missing our collection of adornments from over the years – we left them all in New Zealand – but with a few bits of red and white bling, some lights and a couple of crystals, we are feeling the magic – so much so that Miss 3 told her Grandparents on the telephone, “You will never believe how beautiful our Christmas tree is! Your eyes will pop out when you see it… but don’t worry, I’ll help you find them and pop them back in again.”

So, for my photo gallery this week, and the theme of ‘Christmas Tree’, I am sharing a few of the snaps I took whilst in Disneyland and hope you enjoy a very magical and merry holiday season too!

We have only three sleeps to wait till Grandma & Granddad, my dear folks, arrive! The best Christmas present of all x

Sticky Fingers Photo Gallery

Feeling Festive | The Photo Gallery

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It’s been so many years since we’ve celebrated the festive season in the northern hemisphere. It took me well over a decade to adjust to celebrating in the southern hemisphere – and just when I thought I’d finally done it… I went and jinxed it! Spending Christmas in Santa Barbara is a wonderful ‘best of both worlds’ place to be. The days are always sunny, the days – of course, being in the northern hemisphere, are shorter, the evenings cooler, but rarely freezing, and the lights – everywhere – are beautiful.

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It gets dark at 5pm and with little wind, or inclement weather, outdoor decorations are able to be on display without risk of failure. It’s glorious to be out in the evening and enjoy the festivities, of which there are plenty. Just this weekend there was a Christmas Parade on Friday evening and a wonderful ‘Festival of Trees’, where Miss 3 was awe-struck to see Santa ice-skating. She also had a jolly good go at it herself, as well as decorating a beautiful stocking.

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Of course my heart is still in the two places I love – my birthplace and home of some twenty-three years – the U.K. – and my ‘adopted’ country and place that welcomed my three daughters into the world – beautiful New Zealand. I miss the beautiful red, flower of the Pohutukawa tree in New Zealand – it’s bloom always arriving to welcome Christmas and summer simultaneously, and the long days and light to savour celebrations at ease with my family and friends. My heart is also with my friends and family in England (though, admittedly, I have less of a desire to be there, in the frigid conditions of winter, where it’s dark at 3.30pm and the days quite often grey and overcast – at least with children in tow – however I could definitely enjoy some couple time with hubbie in the many gorgeous pubs and strolling the lit streets of London town!).

But despite my heart feeling forever torn, there is enough room for it to feel happy in Santa Barbara this year. We are blessed with the excitement of having my parents visiting from the UK to celebrate the festivities and a wonderful house to call home for a year. It’s easy to make it feel festive, with a few twinkly lights and some adornments to remind us of a summer Christmas and our roots in the U.K. There have been a few additions to mark our time here in the USA too… Mickey Mouse couldn’t help but make an appearance!

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Our lovely landlady here gifted us some decorative delights, including red flowers that tie in both the beautiful Pohutukawa of New Zealand and the poinsettia, one of my all time favourite Christmas flowers. Our lovely New Zealand neighbours, that recently visited us, sent a gorgeous poinsettia as a thank you, which brings us so much love and happiness.

And, the lights, everywhere, lining the streets and shopping malls, are totally magic. So with memories of our recent visit to a Christmassy Disneyland  and the company of our New Zealand friends, we are feeling ready to celebrate the festivities and welcome in 2014!

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays! xxx

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Linking up with other lovelies on the theme, ‘Feeling Festive’, here…

Sticky Fingers Photo Gallery

Burning some rubber with the kids on the Santa Barbara waterfront!

With three children constantly at home it’s not easy to fit in exercise (well, not in the way I’d like – though I do get plenty of movement cleaning up after them and running around playing crazy games… and moving the wine glass to my mouth…).

This week, with friends visiting from New Zealand, we had the impetus to have some focused outdoor fun (especially since the older children were rather hooked on Minecraft gaming action and needed fresh air and sunshine more than they realised!).

We hired a few bikes down on the Santa Barbara waterfront, catching the last of the light before sundown and pedalled like crazy for a good half an hour.

Biking on the Santa Barbara waterfront

A gentle wind even got up, reminiscent of Wellington – where you’d almost always expect to be pedalling head on into the wind (and being blown along the other way). It was a blast and made us all feel so ‘alive’ (especially me – desperate for a little exercise!). Little Miss 3 loved sitting on the back seat of a double coupe, which I pedalled with the help of our New Zealand friend. My older girls pedalled independently (Miss 10 very relieved to not have to ride a pink bike… whilst Miss 7, on the other hand, couldn’t have been happier to have some ‘flower power’ to coordinate with her pink heeled boots!).

Pedal fun at sundown in Santa Barbara

It was a great end to the day, with the daylight fading all too fast in this winter season of short days, but leaving a beautiful scene for us to enjoy.

Sun down Santa Barbara

 

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Linking up this post with other wonderful folk,
who also love outdoor fun with their children, at…

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

Things I’m Loving | A little Christmas sparkle

A little bit of Christmas cheer has picked up our spirits and cast a light on the dark nights of winter. A little Christmas fairy fluttered into the house and sprinkled some magic on the Christmas tree, which will be covered in her little offerings of hand painted snowmen and snow flakes over the days of advent.

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Her shy little smile, hints at mischief too…

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And a twinkle in her eye promises all sorts of fun in the countdown to Christmas and the arrival of special visitors from England – Grandma & Granddad!

She is getting busy with sticky tape and string, so we better be careful where we step!

There’s going to be glitter, glue and lots of baking happening in the house over the next couple of weeks. Just the kind of magic we need to keep us from thinking too much of our home and friends in New Zealand.

With heavy hearts we bid farewell to our NZ friends today, but the wonderful memories will live on and on.

Lost my happy place. Seeking energy to find it!

I’ve lost my happy place.
The light outside is bright, but muffled through my eyes.
If I could be alone, I would just curl up & not worry,
But my ever present children make such thoughts pitiful & guilt fuelled.
I have dreams of crawling away (no strength to run), to no where in particular,
I feel like crying every moment of every day.
I bite my lip, blink back the tears, try to smile and respond,
But I’m trapped in a circle of fog.
If I could give myself a shake, like a dust covered rug –
I would beat out the dirt and hang myself in the sun to air.
But tired,  numb & lifeless, it’s easier to close my eyes on it all.

© Sarah Lee, Dec. 2013

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Linking up with lovely, poetic folk at –

Prose for Thought