California

Our free wheeling 11 year old!

Our oldest daughter has just turned 11 and she celebrated in sunny California (her first ‘summer’ Birthday – as she was born in the middle of New Zealand’s winter – on a particularly wild day in Wellington!). She has grown tall enough to have her first proper bike, with gears and all that jazz, for cruising around. She very much wanted a retro style bike, with a large saddle, mud guards and room for a basket. She’s not keen on mountain biking, but definitely needed some gears for when we get back home to hilly Wellington, New Zealand.

On the morning of her Birthday she slept in – way past midday – finally waking at nearly 2pm in the afternoon (she’d spent the night before on Skype with her New Zealand pals), giving her Daddy plenty of time to go and pick up her new bike. She woke to her sisters greeting her in bed. They had been so excited to see her open her presents and waited very patiently all morning. The afternoon was a wonderfully relaxed one, with the girls all cruising on their bikes down the lane by the house. We ate a very late brunch and celebrated in the evening with a wee cake. Miss 11 was quite overwhelmed (in a good way) at her bike.

Birthday wheels for Miss 11

I was reminded of my own first ‘big bike’, a white racer that I rode throughout my teenage years all around the country lanes of north Hampshire, in England, where I grew up. I have so many fond memories of Sunday bike rides with my Dad and sister (usually with a pub stop for lunch, a coke-a-cola in a glass bottle with a straw and a packet of salt ‘n’ vinegar crisps!). It was wonderful to have those wheels and the freedom to visit friends. I kept my bike well into my University years and spent my first holiday with Dan, my now hubby, cruising around the Isle of Wight on my bike. We spent a week cycling up and down the hills of the beautiful island off the south coast of England, a short ferry ride from Southampton, and camping in a wee tent.

I could see in my daughter’s eyes the significance of this new set of wheels, how she envisioned herself biking around the bays of Wellington and along the waterfront (on those stunning sunshine days – probably not in a howling southerly!). It’s the perfect bike for her.

A few days after her Birthday she ventured out a little further on her bike, enjoying an evening ride with her Daddy around the streets of Montecito in Santa Barbara. The first of many rides!

She also celebrated her Birthday with a visit to a super duper cinema at ‘Muvico Thousand Oaks‘, where she watched Transformers 4 (she loves all things science fiction) in 3D and sat on a ‘D-BOX‘ seat! Her eight year old sister and Daddy joined her. They thought it was amazing and the ‘D-BOX’ seats were a huge hit! 

She’s done so well this past year, having to leave the school she loved in Wellington, New Zealand, to live in California, USA, for a while. She was so brave in making the move. She has missed her friends and school very much, but coped brilliantly. The ‘icing on the cake’ of her Birthday celebrations was the news that we will be flying back to her home in Wellington, New Zealand, in early October this year – just in time for ‘Term 4’ at the school she loves and to be a part of her dance school’s end of year show. She’ll then have the long summer break before starting Year 8 in 2015. She’s so thrilled and the sparkle in her eyes and smile has totally returned.

The Photo Gallery | The Longest Day

It’s normally at this time of year, in New Zealand, that I’m rugged up with a Pinot Noir, glaring at a flickering candle and wishing I was somewhere warmer. There’s a certain romanticism of tucking up and hunkering down for winter – but it wears off pretty quickly (unless of course there’s a ton of fresh powder snow on a mountain nearby!).

This year, I am in the northern hemisphere, seeing in the longest day, and feeling very appreciative of the sunshine, warmth and long daylight hours. I looked at my Facebook feed of updates from family and friends in the northern hemisphere with shared appreciation and not a shred of envy. Meanwhile, I looked at my southern hemisphere pals in New Zealand with admiration – as some were running marathons and half-marathons, others throwing themselves in the water at Lyall Bay for a mid-winter swim and some hitting the snowy slopes.

I suppose I could have thrown myself in the Pacific ocean for a swim, but went for a run instead. I finished up with a beautiful walk along the beach, at high-tide, getting splashed by the break waves hitting the rocks as I carefully made my way from Santa Barbara beach to Butterfly Beach.

Santa Barbara beach to Butterfly Beach at high tide

I wasn’t alone on my walk. This beautiful pair of white heron were never more than ten yards from me. They kept a wary eye on me, not entirely pleased to be sharing their spot with a bumbling, bare-footed, human. I did try to channel my inner mountain goat spirit whilst scrambling over the rocks, but really didn’t look very graceful – although I managed to complete my walk without a twisted ankle, so that’s a result.

White Heron

I feel very fortunate to be here at the moment, knowing that when the daylight hours start to decrease toward winter, I shall be back in Wellington, New Zealand, just as summer approaches. I shall take the memories of this year in southern California with me, where the sky has almost always been blue and outdoor celebrations have rarely needed a ‘Plan B’. There were two summer-solstice weddings set up on the beach, with typical Californian confidence of the weather being good.

I love the light. I can cope with cold, wind and rain, but natural light is like water to my body and soul. It’s been great to have such a good dose of it this year! Definitely good for my health. 

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Joining in with ‘The Photo Gallery’ at Sticky Fingers, with this week’s theme of ‘The Longest Day‘.

Magic Moments – Family fun in Solvang

It was one of those Sundays that just ‘worked’. The only pre-planned event was my first ever morning yoga class on the beach (bliss). After I returned from my yoga class, feeling very zen and at one with Universe (carrying Blenders smoothies with a supplement of bee pollen for everyone in the family), everything else in the day was simply destined to go with the flow (a good flow; streamlined, smooth and plain sailing).

There was a call from the man of the house to do something different. He suggested taking our daughters to Solvang, where I’d finished my first half marathon the weekend before. The girls had stopped at home with our visiting friend from New Zealand and had never seen Solvang – a very Danish town in the middle of the Californian wine growing countryside of the Santa Ynez Valley. Solvang is just over a half hour drive, through scenic countryside, from Santa Barbara. In all appearances you could be in a Danish town, but there’s obviously the American flags flying along with the Danish and no one speaks Danish (at least not to the tourists).

Solvang

So, we got the girls away from their Minecraft world and took to the real roads.

We arrived in Solvang, the town of pastries, wine, coffee, cakes, art, toy shops and windmills, under a typical Californian blue sky.

Solvang

A couple of hours wondering the streets, eating, drinking, buying a few trinkets for our dolls house, and watching the Clydesdale horses pull the tourist tram around, were well spent.

Solvang

We also drove the course that I’d ran (the girls were vaguely interested, but really they were hanging out for their Danish pastries after the drive from Santa Barbara) and stopped at a very cute playground.

Solvang playground

A magic place and somewhere that we could spend many more pleasurable hours… enjoy some wine tasting – if only we could find someone to watch over the children – ah well – that time will come again… and then we will no doubt be all reflective and misty eyed, remembering ‘those days’ with our children always in tow – and we wouldn’t have it any other way. Feeling very blessed indeed to have such a happy family and the opportunity to experience gems like this.

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Linking up with the lovely ‘Magic Moments’ at ‘The Oliver’s Madhouse’:

Sand dune action

The other week, on a drive down to Disneyland California with a friend, we stopped off on the Pacific coast for some sand dune action. The children went up to the top with no hesitation, before pelting it down in a storm of sand! Fantastic fun.

Heading up the sand dune

I would have joined them, but I was limping on a dodgy ankle and didn’t want to do any further damage. Our friend took this snap of hubbie and I with two of our three daughters, which I kind of like – so thought I’d throw it in for the memory box!

Hugs on the sand dune

Whilst hubbie ran up the sand dune, with our daughters, I caught the action as they bowled down towards me…!

This was their view from the top, looking down!

Looking down from the top of the sand dune!

Meanwhile, circling on the air currents above us, huge pelicans looked upon our antics.

Pelicans

A great pit stop on our road trip to Disneyland with our Kiwi friend Frances.

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Check out other families having outdoor fun over at….

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

The Photo Gallery | Happy – Finding ‘Happy’ at Disneyland California!

Guess where we are?

Known as ‘The Happiest Place on Earth’!

Disneyland!

This visit I am the happiest I’ve been visiting Disneyland California, and it’s not just because of the dashing man by my side (though of course he is a big part of the reason!).

Me & hubbie at Disneyland

It’s also because our Miss 4 has finally reached the magic height of 40 inches, (corresponding with me reaching the age of 40!) which enables her to go on so many more rides!

She stands proud and tall when asked, ‘Can I check your height?’, with a look of determined confidence. She is now able to ride all of our favourite rides in California Adventure Park, like Soaring Over California, Radiator Springs Racers and Silly Symphony Swings. In Disneyland she loves the newly reopened Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Star Tours!

Here she is, between our friend Frances, visiting us from New Zealand, and her Daddy, preparing to go on Soaring Over California:

Soaring over California

Our friend Frances being here is another reason to be super duper happy. We have three adults to three children and everyone is getting to have fun! Hurray!

Miss 8 and Frances hanging out in the lobby of the Disneyland Hotel:

Disneyland Hotel lobby

Frances having a laugh with some flashing ice-cubes that landed in our drinks at the wonderful Blue Bayou restaurant on Monday evening! Fabulous food, wonderful company and superb setting:

Blue Bayou ice cubes

I’m so happy to be dining out and soaking up the good vibes. We had an incredible table for dinner this evening, overlooking the fun of Paradise Pier.

Dinner overlooking Paradise Pier

What a view!

California Adventure

Our older daughters are super happy, now they know the layout of the parks so well, that they feel confident to run onto rides, as ‘single riders’, skipping the long lines of people waiting to ride together. We stay at a cafe nearby, enjoying a drink, whilst they ride to their hearts content! They must have been on California Screamin’ over a dozen times!

We are even managing to get our oldest daughter, Miss 10, to make the occasional appearance in front of the camera, so long as its a ‘Selfie’; those are all good in her book.

Selfie with Miss 10

And Miss 4 is super happy to have her wish to become a mermaid finally come to fruition – at least in painted portrait form…

Alice the mermaid

We have all week here and the weather is scorchio’, the swimming pool inviting and the cocktails…. ahhhh, so happy!

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Linking up with lots of other ‘Happy’
over at ‘The Photo Gallery’ at Sticky Fingers blog this week:

Sticky Fingers Photo Gallery

Country Kids – more like ‘Spy Kids’!!!

Okay, last weekend we had a blast. I turned forty in style, celebrating in Santa Monica, California.

Santa Monica

My daughters LOVED the beach gym that brings the community and tourists together for some active fun.

Beach gym Santa Monica

There were some serious gymnast types, flexing muscles on the ropes and swings cirque du soleil style. I was in awe of their strength and flexibility (also made for nice eye candy in the background of the holiday photo snaps I was taking of my children!).

Eye-candy in the background!

My children were amazing too (aren’t children always?!).

Hanging around at Santa Monica beach

I tried… but alas, it’s been too many years since I accomplished monkey bars – but if I had that set up on my door-step I would totally be enthused to get back to that place in my childhood when monkey bars were my best friend!

And they had swings that were super sized for adults to actually fit their arses in and feel like a kid all over again! Yes!!

Me going HIGH on the swings!

This video features a snippet of hubbie having a blast, as well as Miss 3 swinging ‘Tinkerbell’ style (and Miss 8 & 10 showing off their incredible strength!)…

And if you’re in for more action then here’s a video that my Miss 8 put together using iMovie (she threw together video clips from the past fortnight, not just shots from Santa Monica beach, but the video tells its own story… and what I’m living in every day with her being at home ‘unschooled’! What an active lass indeed – and yet, she can still read, write and do maths – just prefers to do it all standing on her head x ! )…

Hope you’ve found some outdoor fun to enjoy in your neck of the woods this past week. I didn’t manage to keep up with my children on the monkey bars, but I have ran my first half marathon in just over two hours (with a sore ankle to boot!), so I’m now feeling amped for chilling out a little, before running some more to earn my wine (just hoping the frozen pea and elevation treatment will work magic on my ankle!)!

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Linking up this post with the amazing Country Kids at Coombe Mills, where you can find tons of inspirational posts from folks who enjoy outdoor fun and action with their children!

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

Loving turning Forty in Santa Monica!

My Facebook feed was flooded with lovely messages of ‘welcome to the club’ and ‘forties are the best’ this weekend. It’s been like reliving turning eighteen again, as I’ve watched friends slightly older than me party into their forties and then, last weekend, it was my turn.

It was a fabulous weekend away in Santa Monica, staying at a beautiful hotel overlooking the beach and pier. We shared the weekend with a really wonderful family, that we know from Wellington, who are also living here for a spell, but hold New Zealand in their hearts as their ‘forever’ home. Their gorgeous 4 year old son is a very close friend of our Miss 4 – and their relationship got a little closer at my 40th dinner celebrations… (he proposed!!!!!!)….

So, there’s me feeling like a really old lady, having a daughter get engaged (ha, ha! ‘Watch this space’!) on the same weekend I turned forty… and yet, I felt so ready for this ‘milestone’ Birthday. Of course, I decided to face it head on, battle style. There was no way I was going to head into my forties without a fight. I signed up for a half marathon several weeks before and am running it on 10 May, three weeks fresh from turning forty. After spending my thirties breeding, nappy changing and breastfeeding, it’s great to enter my forties at a new stage in my life. My children are no longer babes and it’s exciting to be ‘growing’ with them (though of course my growing taller days are way behind me – just have to keep on running to keep up with them and earn my chocolate, cake and bubbly!).

Anyway, a fabulous weekend and I don’t feel any need for deep reflection on this milestone Birthday, I’m just so grateful for my health, my family, my friends and living a peaceful life with freedom of choice, that’s full of possibilities.

Thanks dear friends for all your lovely messages. I really do feel fabulous at forty and am looking forward to the adventures this decade in my life will bring.

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Joining in with…

An active week in Santa Barbara – and yes, I am running a half marathon…

Between the game play (Minecraft), the crafting (Rainbow Looming) and all the preschool arts and crafts (baking ginger-bread men, sand play, painting, imaginary story telling and so on…) there’s been a lot of action in the house in California this week. My New Zealand born children have been energised with slightly cooler temperatures and rain (yes, rain!). We took a trip to the the local zoo in Santa Barbara (we signed up for annual membership, since we are here for a year) and spent a few hours enjoying some action, with a touch of animal education – but mostly ‘physical education’!)…

We also visited a fav park – Goleta Beach Park, for a kick around, as well as a park near the Zoo – where we played ball-tag, baseball, climbing and anything that stretched a limb!

Opposite Santa Barbara Zoo park

After my 8km run on Monday (in training for a half-marathon – my first – in May) I was on ‘cross fit’ day – so certainly got my exercise in – in a round about way! Why a half-marathon? Well, I’m turning forty in April, so it seemed the right thing to do – plus I’m doing it for a very good cause (yes, I need the motivation!). Also, the run is in ‘wine country’ – the ‘Santa Barbara Wine Country Half Marathon’… aye, I’m no saint!

Monday's run

Oh and, whilst I’m at it, I did a decent run on Friday too (which was followed by reading Facebook updates of forty something friends in NZ completing a half-marathon in Wellington… which resulted in me signing up to do one – inspiration through Facebook – it’s real!).

Friday night's run

The run on Friday was swiftly followed by a vegetarian curry (thanks hubby and the wonderful curry house ‘Tamira Santa Barbara‘ that made it). Sunday, I should have gone for a run – but had friends around for a pirate shin dig (but that’s another post), in honour of our youngest lass having just turned four (didn’t seem real till we’d celebrated with some ‘Kiwi’ mates!). A pirate shin dig wouldn’t have seemed right without a few drinks to wash down the salty BBQ food.. ahem… (any excuse) so I indulged as any pirate would (given the chance) and set the world to rights (on the running front) on Monday.

Tuesday and Wednesday were followed with lots of planking, squatting, yoga moves and gentle weights throughout the day – combined with multiple trips up, down, round, square and figure of eight; chasing dirty laundry, plates, children and chaos. And now, Wednesday night, I sit listening to the wonderful (and extremely rare) sound of rain thinking, ‘I really should have gone for a run today as I’m drinking far too much wine!’. Tonight, along with drinking wine, has been a fun one of putting out multiple rain catching containers with Miss 4 (she obviously recalls the drought in Wellington, NZ, of summer 2013, which I wrote about here and here, over at ‘Catching the Magic’), baking gingerbread men (she found the cookie cutters, whilst emptying a large plastic box – to use for rain collecting, and decided baking was the needed… and boy am I glad she did… as I sit here typing, wine fuelled, with the munchies!) and drinking rain water (well, wouldn’t you if it hadn’t rained more than 3 days in six months?!… never mind the water might be polluted!).

So, there you have it. A little post for the week to link up with the lovely active folk over at ‘Country Kids‘ who make the most of the weather in the wonderful UK, whatever it may be, and get out with their children to enjoy a bit of action x

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

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

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