expat

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

Away to the Peak District & pause for thought | Part 3

Every since I became a parent I felt grateful; grateful because as a couple we could afford for me to stay at home and be with our children in their early childhood. I have loved it, appreciated it, immersed myself in their world and learned so much from it. On the flip side – I’ve followed my husband’s career – wherever it’s taken us. From England, to New Zealand, from New Zealand to California, USA, and now – who knows? Giving up a paid career, meant saying ‘Yes’ to wherever my husband’s career took us. I lost the right to say, ‘I need to stay here, this is where my work is.’ I have, on the whole, been happy to go where the river has taken me, but this latest journey to live in California, and my recent visit to my birth country, of England, has given me time for reflection.

Peak District

A big part of me would love to return to my home of England. I would love to live in Hampshire, near my parents (and be there for them in their later years), or maybe the Peak District, near my sister. It was a highlight of my short, four-day visit, to travel up to see her. It had been two years since we were last together – when she visited my family and I in Wellington, New Zealand. I was so delighted to finally see her home in the Peak District and catch up with her fantastic partner – who I hadn’t seen in some six years!

My sister at home in the Peak District

We rendezvoused in Bakewell, meeting up for lunch, before driving on to her home in the Peak District. My dear Mum and Dad were with me. They’d stopped the previous night at ‘The Grove’ in Hertfordshire with me – where I’d attended the amazing wedding of an old friend from University days. I was very well looked after (and they kept me so busy that there was little time for me to be anxious about how my caring hubbie was faring back in California – looking after our three daughters). It felt amazing to be reunited with my sister, along with our parents. It was like the old days; just the four of us. I felt so light and energised to be there as a daughter and a sister, without the added responsibility of motherhood.

Wintery weather in Bakewell

We wondered the streets of Bakewell at leisure, without needing to meet the demands of three children in tow. We ate a relaxed lunch and took our time to choose a Bakewell Pie to take back to my sister’s house for pudding.

Bakewell

I have always loved England. I love the history, the landscapes, the people and above all my family. Just recently, with all the crazy floods and storms, they’ve unearthed footprints dating back over 800,000 years – the oldest evidence of humans, outside of Africa! I  love that the UK has the ‘right to roam’. The land, as far as the eye can see, is accessible to the body. Those ancient rights of way are still in place and beg to be explored, in all seasons, just like people have done for hundreds of thousands of years.

I’ve never been a begrudging British expat, wishing away my life in England. I’ve always been partly homesick for it and nostalgic. I never cared a damn about the weather when I was there (apart from January and February – the dark months – I definitely need light – not warmth – but light!). I was brought up to wrap up warm and embrace the elements. To make the most of a sunny day. I fondly remember the feeling of a walk in the cold and returning to my home, or the pub, with cold, pink cheeks, feeling tingling and alive. There is nothing like ‘real weather’ to make a person feel alive! In fact, after six months of living in Southern California – with mostly blue sky and sunshine every day – I was absolutely ecstatic to see clouds, rain, even a flurry of snow on the drive from Bakewell to my sister’s house. I hung out the window of my sister’s car with my camera, trying to capture an approaching snow cloud, loving the feel of my face being chilled by the cold air whizzing past!

Driving through real weather in the Peak District

When we arrived at my sister’s house we snuggled in for a lovely catch up, dinner and a slide show; of my sister’s recent trip to Colorado with her partner, Mike Hutton (who is an incredible outdoor photographer and it was such a delight to see his incredible photographs of Utah, USA). After hearing about their trip we plugged in my Dad’s camera and shared their recent trip to see us and their granddaughters in California. So great to catch up, properly, in person.

My sister, her beloved, and my parents, in her home, in the Peak District

It was such a fantastic evening that I couldn’t sleep that night for thinking. Thinking about how different my life would be if I hadn’t ended up living so far away from my dearest sister, Mum and Dad. I followed the man I’d met at University. I followed his career. I followed him to a beautiful country, New Zealand, that seriously captured my heart.

Looking back, now, it was the classic want of ‘youth’ – for something ‘else’.

So, I married the man I knew, followed his career path, had his children and have, seriously, loved it all. But, I have wondered, over the years,  in those moments of the overwhelming responsibility of parenting, whether it was the right choice: Especially seeing my dear sister, for the first time in two years, with the love of her life, in the home they share, in the Peak District, England.

Peak District

Isn’t this normal? Surely there’s plenty of forty year olds (or nearly forty year olds – yes, it’s THAT year for me) that ask this? I am probably just having one of those ‘mid-life’ moments. There’s too much questioning, analysis and pondering. It’s not at all healthy and, if I’m honest, everything right now in my immediate focus is just fine.

I am lucky to have a husband that’s used to my questioning, analytical nature. I have always been open and honest with him. I do believe that an open relationship, where both partners feel confident to voice everything they think and feel, makes for a lasting relationship. My husband is loving, attentive, caring and wonderful. He is an amazing husband, father and friend. We live life well and do, seriously, have much affection and love for one another. He has walked back and forth, past me, whilst I write this post, and I haven’t felt the need to close the lid on my lap-top. He knows, and trusts, that my ramblings are part of my nature. He lets me be. He loves me, all the same. God, I am a lucky woman! He lets me head out for a run when he knows I need it most. He picks up the phone when I call him. He answers. He’s there. He meets me on the beach, with our youngest. He is always there, whenever he can be, whilst supporting his family in a successful career. He is always there. Writing this post makes me see this all so clearly… and that’s why he lets me write, lets me question, lets me be – open, honest, real.

My husband. My Miss 3. My love.

On that note I shall finish up this questioning post of my own future. I share this, because I can. I have a husband I do deeply love. I am so, so fortunate that he married me knowing I was a looney! He knew I was crazy when we met. He lives with my craziness. We are, together, a unit, and have three crazy, yet wonderful, lively, energetic, inspiring children.

It’s normal to question. It’s normal to wonder, ‘What might have been’. It’s normal to want to stay in touch with people that have touched our lives in the past. We are all living this live, in some kind of ‘oneness’. Let’s be kind to one another. We are never really, ever, ‘grown-up’. We are all just trying to figure out life, the best we can, and let’s be kind to one another and spread the love the best our hearts see fit!

I have a husband who listens, who tries, with all his genuine heart and soul to understand. In the words of the trolls from the latest Disney movie ‘Frozen’, he truly is, ‘a fixer upper’ when it comes to life.

I started writing this post after too many wines, and have since edited it – but the words I’ve left out felt good to write at the time. After those wines I had a good cry and my dear husband hugged me, listened to me, answered my questions, made suggestions that sound right, and understood me. I am so grateful for him. Yes, I have followed him for eleven years. I have given up a career of my own. I have been, above all else, a mother. I have given my heart and soul to my children. I have tried, in all those years, to be supportive, caring, attentive and ‘sexy’ to my husband. I have worked to keep our love and relationship alive. I have had moments of self-doubt and wondered, ‘What if…’, but I am in the right place, at the right time, with the right man.

I love that he ‘let me go’ on a solo trip to the UK. He was amazing, as I knew in my heart he would be, with our three daughters, for the six days and four night’s I was away. It was the first time, in over ten years, I’d been away on my own.

He knew there would be a need for me to process the trip away in my own time, to decompress and put it all in perspective. I love him for his understanding.

Lots of love, Sarah xx (with special thanks to my husband for understanding me and standing by me in all my ramblings!) x

The final part of my trip I’ll write about in due course. The last day we travelled back from the Peak District to Hampshire, enjoying the scenery and finished up with a delightful evening watching ‘Giselle’, the ballet, at a cinema theatre in Camberley, screened live from the Royal Opera House in London.

Read ‘Part 1′ of my trip here: ‘LA to UK for 4 days, sans children. A once in a decade trip!

Read ‘Part 2’ here: An English wedding and a reunion of old friends

It’s the little moments of parenting that make it worthwhile

When you get out of the habit of writing about the little slices of life, that make it worth living, it’s hard to know where to start. Everything I write, which means so much to me, will be trivial to others; but I share it all the same, as I’ve learned that there’s a wonderful community ‘out there’ of parents that make sharing worthwhile.

Through sharing I’ve met great, interesting, inspiring people. I’ve felt empowered to make changes and I’ve felt that reassurance of ‘Thank goodness I am not the only one’. It’s not until you are a parent, or spend a lot of time with children, that you can understand the complexities of trying to be the right role model, all the time. I never knew patience like I do now, after ten years of parenting. I can add tolerance, empathy, sympathy, an ear that listens (and sometimes requires ear plugs) and much more; that I’m too tired to think of (a normal condition of parenting) to the list.

I’ve learned, above all else, to try and take stock, every day – or at least once a week, of the little things that have made me happy, grateful, proud or loved. It’s all too easy to get hung up on the negatives (it’s a constant battle in my mind not to!), but writing a blog over the years – ‘Catching the Magic‘, and now here, has helped me to keep a positive focus (or at least stop me from sinking completely underneath the trail of mess that is childhood creativity and learning in full flow!). I often look back on all we’ve done and am so thankful that I found the energy to record all those little slices of positivity.

I gave up paid work to spend every moment with my children. I have loved living in the moment with them and have totally immersed myself in being in their worlds – but perhaps too much (indicative of the sneaky white hairs). I feel more and more, as my youngest reaches four, that though I still am occupied so much with the lives of my children, I need to once again take back a little of me. I’ve been happy, for years, to give and give, but now I feel the emptiness of not taking time to refill myself with the essence of what makes me a person. As my eldest turned ten I felt the need, more than ever, to be once again more of the ‘old me’; an independent woman that spent time working, volunteering, undertaking hobbies to further enhance my physical, mental and spiritual health. I need this change for me, but also to set an example to my ten year old, whilst also being there and constant for my youngest child and middle daughter, that’s recently turned eight.

Recently Updated416

Lately, I have really struggled to find any time to record the high moments of the week, or the desire, compulsion and motivation to do so. I nap when my youngest does, I sleep when my children sleep – they don’t hit the sack at night till around 10pm. I read a little, but that’s it. Writing, sadly, has left me. So, this post is the beginning of rectifying that. I doubt I’ll be as constant or diarise with such intensity. I don’t feel compelled to share the day to day moments as much as I used to – though it’s true that, on reflection, that’s what I enjoy looking back on. I don’t feel like spending hours putting photographs together in collages and tweaking them to edited perfection. But I do miss taking my camera and capturing a moment that might otherwise have missed.

Miss 10 rainbow looming

When I focus, with camera in hand, something else happens that changes my perception and depth of what my eyes naturally see. I feel immersed in a world of colour in a higher magnitude. I forget the washing, the piles of toys to sort and resort, the lunches to prepare and the dishes to wash. My perspective shifts when I practice being observant and my overall mental health is all the better for it.

Day to day happenings

This year, living away from our home in New Zealand, should – most would think – be all the more worth recording. But, with three children at home full time, and the pressure of making sure they are occupied, emotionally and physically well, happy and learning, is all consuming. The ‘big days out’ are photographed aplenty, but I don’t feel the need to write down every moment or blog about it – rather let the photographs speak for themselves. It’s the little moments, of every day, in the home, that are the ones I need to take stock of. The fairy gardens that our Miss 3 creates…

Alice's fairy garden

The progress she makes, with such delight, in her drawings…

Little moments of contented achievement in the home

It’s only now, with this momentary time of reflection (all be it with Miss 3 sat next to me, talking away, pulling my nose, giggling and asking if dinner is nearly ready) that I realise how much I need to make time to take stock (however interrupted it is). It is this time that makes me feel better about how I’m doing and how my children are faring. They have come to a new country for a year, leaving behind their beloved home, friends, hobbies and routines. They are all at home, after schools here in the USA seemed so different that thrusting them into a different system – just for a year – didn’t seem worth it. They are living and breathing life together, 24/7, and the way they have learned to get on and entertain themselves in a way that makes me so proud. The unity of our family feels stronger than ever (even if I feel a little frazzled around the edges at times!). We are doing okay.

Keep calm and carry on

It’s forcing myself to take stock that makes me feel more upbeat and helps me to pick up momentum in taking a positive outlook each week.

Miss 8 writing down her looming creations

I have felt so, so lost living in the USA, away from everything my children and I know. I have felt reflective of the past and full of questions about the future.

What I feel about my life and how I’d like to move forward is weighed upon, heavily, by the desires of my children and my husband. I must continue to think of my family and the best way forward for the whole, no matter how much my heart pines for something quite different in so many respects.

Taking stock of the little moments, that occur on any normal day, are what keep me sane and positive. I feel better for writing already. Time to ditch the laptop now and go ‘be in the moment’ with my family 🙂

Sarah x

New | The Photo Gallery

Hummingbird ornament in garden

New is the hummingbird sun-catcher, hanging from the tree.

New is the hummingbird feeder, dangling near by.

New is this scene, just for a year, in a house in Santa Barbara,

where all the nature is new to my eyes.

Hummingbird feeder

Time in this house, with my three children, is ample,

Sometimes it feels a prison, I can’t get them out,

other times it feels a welcome hide-away,

with enough distractions to keep me from venturing out.

Bird in the garden

My days are quantified with small achievements;

children fed and hydrated, stories read,

music played, a dance and a song –

A painting, a drawing, a swim in the pool,

dishes are clean, clothes all washed and beds made.

Water fountain in the garden

If I think any further, have a place to be at a set time,

it all feels too much. Anxious tears spring in my eyes.

Phone calls go unanswered, responded with a text or an e-mail.

Shopping is left to do on-line, or by my husband on the way home from work.

Bird in the garden

I just have enough in me, each day, to focus on the little things.

For now, that is all I have and that is enough.

So the new hummingbird feeder in the garden draws my focus –

It’s significance is magnified by my simple days.

Hummingbird in the garden

The sight of a bird, at the feeder or on a plant nearby,

flitting in the sunshine, with one purpose on its mind,

is my symbol of being in the moment, right now.

If I have to think past the moment, to the future, or question the past,

those tears spring again, and I feel down in my heart.

Hummingbird in the garden

So now, in this New Year, I shall focus on what is now.

Right here, every day, new in the moment.

It is enough, for now.

Hummingbird

© Sarah Lee, January 2014

Sticky Fingers Photo Gallery

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

________________________

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 week in reflection: Moments to love & be thankful for.

It’s Friday. The weekend is nearly here, which means family time with the man of the house. It’s so much easier to keep all three of our children entertained when he’s at home. As much as I am enjoying having the girls all at home, I do have moments of feeling like I’m being held under ‘house arrest’ by my own children! There’s always someone that doesn’t want to go out, or a discussion about where we should go and why. Thankfully the house we are staying in is a very lovely environment to spend hours and hours, but I definitely need a couple of ‘outings’ to keep me sane – even if it’s down to the local village for a cup of coffee!

This week we had one outing which was particularly lovely, to the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. We’ve been once before, enjoying the outdoor setting, water course, fort building and nature glen. This time around we discovered a ‘Planetarium’ and a new dinosaur discovery pit, where my junior palaeontologists got to work digging and brushing away the sand to reveal a skeleton. They enjoyed discussing what type of animal it would have been and whether it would have been a land, sea or air animal.

Dinosaur excavation at Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History

We were also opportune to visit on a day that an insect expert was sharing his knowledge. He had a ‘pet’ Vinegaroon to tell us about, otherwise known as a whipped tail scorpion (though it’s not a scorpion at all… See! I was paying attention!). He demonstrated the difference between six-legged insects and eight-legged arthropods and arachnids. He had some wonderful exhibits to show us and was so interesting to listen to.

After listening to him for a while, we made a speedy getaway as a big school group approached, thanking him for his time and feeling quite sorry for him as the crowd descended! We ducked into a fantastic display of more insects and bugs, trying to make our own spider web from a single piece of rope.

Learning at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History

Talking of rope, there’s been quite a lot of activity happening on the end of one too. Miss 7 has joined the Santa Barbara Rock Gym and, after her Dad took a belay course, she’s spending many an evening scaling the walls and hanging around. We all went along on Monday evening, with even young Miss 3 having a go – but she didn’t like wearing the climbing shoes or a harness, so had to be pulled back down the wall every time she climbed higher than my head!

The rock gym has a super friendly atmosphere and is definitely a great way to expel a little of Miss 7’s seemingly unstoppable energy (and there’s some good eye candy for me when the college lads are scaling the wall!). She went on Thursday evening as well, as a reward for working hard with her tutor that now visits twice a week; just for a couple of hours at a time.

Santa Barbara Rock Gym

I am so loving having a tutor in, to help with Miss 7’s learning. She’ll be eight by the end of this year and has only ever spent a total of two terms in formal school since turning five. It has been great for me to hear, from a professional teacher, that Miss 7 is achieving above average and not at all behind in any of her learning areas. She has a very ‘natural learning’ home environment, where I don’t so much ‘teach’ – rather I ‘facilitate’ her learning, with resources and encouragement. I see her reading, writing, applying mathematics in her every day life, as well as conversing confidently with people we meet in museums, cafes and so on, but do sometimes worry a little about ‘where we are heading’. Thankfully, I know a couple of inspirational people, through the blogging and homeschooling communities, that give me inspiration and faith to ‘trust in the process’. Nevertheless, I appreciate the input of a tutor.

The tutor brings in fresh ideas and energy, such as organising a fabulous practical experiment of ‘goo’ making on Halloween, tying in with the science of understanding the difference of a solid, a gas and a liquid, as well as sitting around the table doing formal learning.

Goo!

Our first ‘US’ Halloween was a very creative one and the evening was spent with lovely ‘Kiwi’ friends, enjoying ‘trick or treating’ in their friendly neighbourhood, where the home decorations were fantastic.

Trick of treating

Everywhere we went, in the weeks building up to Halloween, there were decorations in shop windows, cafes, restaurants – even the local Zoo!

Decorations

And of course the girls loved carving their own plump, orange, pumpkins – which are in very short supply in New Zealand in spring!

Pumpkins

The man of the house turned up to a very different office on Halloween too…

Halloween at work!

In the home this week my older daughters have loved designing and creating, both on paper with traditional pencils (which will probably be found only in a museum in another generation or so!) and on their computers. On paper they’ve been doing fashion design and looking at how fashion has changed over the last century. On their computers they’ve been designing virtual advent calendars on Minecraft.

Miss 3 has been doing lots of drawings and made a ‘turkey’ out of her hand and foot shapes. Her drawings always come with long explanations that I am asked to ‘write down, with arrows’!

Miss 3, 7 & 10, creating

She loves her drawings to be stuck into her ‘Dinosaur Book’ of treasures, that she likes us to read through every night before bed. She is quite taken with animals and dinosaurs at the moment, so we’ve been creating with play dough, as well as paints and drawing. She comes up with some interesting fictional species and tells me their behaviours, what they like to eat and the environments they live in.

Playdough creatures with Miss 3

Alongside her creativity Miss 3 has been showing great progress with recognising all the letters and sounds of the alphabet, numbers and doing simple addition with numbers under 10. She’s trying to write the letters of her name and creates letters with anything she has to hand – straws, play dough, skewers, in the sand or with water on the dry ground. When she’s not writing or drawing, she’s swimming and diving in the pool with great enthusiasm. She makes me smile with her wonderful imagination and living ‘in the moment’ – an art young children practice with ease.

Miss 3 picking me wild flowers and making me smile

So, that’s my week, the first since the clocks went back, throwing us into darkness from 5pm onwards. My body still thinks it is in New Zealand and expects spring sunshine and light till 9pm. I’m trying to compensate, with fairy lights and red wine… but feel totally confused and disorientated after over a decade of adapting to a southern hemisphere build up to the festive season. Thankfully Santa Barbara’s day time climate is beautiful, but I do miss getting out in the light of an evening, when the man of the house is home from work, for a run or some exercise by myself.

Ah well, candles and fairy lights are my friends for now (and my two bears, to make me feel close to my ‘two’ homes, where my heart sits, split in two, on opposite sides of the world).

Fairy lights and teddy bears

Loving – Finding contentment in the moment, whilst aching for New Zealand

Loving the time my daughters are sharing together. I haven’t seen my oldest two so close for years and our youngest is loving the constant interaction of having her older sisters around.

Sisters close through time well spent together

Loving the natural flow of our days, where ‘fitness’ is a swim in the pool, a bike ride to the village or a run on the beach. There’s no classes to dash to, or planned events, simply time for the children to be together and fill their time naturally – which they do with wonderful ease. Though of course they are missing so much from their lives in Wellington, New Zealand too. Our eldest misses her dance classes, her school friends and neighbourhood friends, her choir and singing lesson. At the age of ten, her friends are her world. As much as this experience here is wonderful too, she is keenly aware of missing the continuity of her happy life that she enjoyed so much in vibrant Wellington. The other children miss their close neighbours and friends. I miss my support networks and the friendships that have built up over the seventeen years we’ve spent living in New Zealand.

Where we are, right now, is a beautiful place, but the energy required to make it feel like ‘home’ is HUGE. Yes the weather is incredible here in Santa Barbara – but really that isn’t enough to trade up life-long friendships for and our children’s happiness! I can live with wind – in fact it makes me feel alive (the horizontal rain in the wind isn’t something I miss – but ‘all-weather gear’ helps to battle that!). Yes, the financial rewards of staying and career opportunities for the man of the house are incredible – but again – family, above all else, is so much more important and no value can be placed on that.

Family

So, in the meantime, we are taking each day as it comes. The girls are making the most of this time together as sisters. There is learning happening – but the children don’t call it that, until I point out that the game they’ve invented using a bingo wheel is maths, the songs they have written are ‘creative writing’ and the designs they made on a fashion App is ‘visual art and design’. They play board games, argue on strategy, practice their English grammar with games like ‘Mad Libs‘. They ask for my camera to take photographs of the lizards in the garden, they ask to go to the Zoo, so they can learn more about snakes (my oldest), I walk in on them reading a book at leisure or watching a nature documentary (or Merlin – a favourite at the moment).

When weekends come round, and the man of the house is on deck, we visit museums and parks, and their minds glitter with new interest and questions. During the week we make the most of places in our locality, learning happens everywhere. In the evenings, after work, their Daddy asks them maths problems in the spa pool.

Our youngest is learning the way the others did at the age of three, fast and enthusiastically, moving from cutting and drawing, painting and sticking, to counting her toy trains and ponies, observing sizes and shapes, letters and numbers, full of questions about the world about her, the animals that share the earth and where we are ‘in Space’. She is the best, out of all of us, at living in the moment. She stops to notice the flowers and asks to ‘Pick for Mumma’.

Flowers for Mumma

She sits with me in the garden and watches nature. She sees the woodpecker on the tree and the butterfly gliding overhead.

Woodpecker

We are trying to make the most of the time we have here, trying not to dwell on the aches in our hearts. I spent the first decade of our lives in New Zealand homesick for England, before finally recognising that New Zealand is actually where my home is – however much I will always ache for certain parts of England and the people I love who live there. Right now, I have a feeling of home sickness for two countries! I really don’t know how long term trailing spouses with children do it. I have absolute admiration for families working in diplomatic posts of three year durations at a time in various overseas posts.

This experience, for me, with children, is not at all easy, but I know we will look back on this time, the photographs, the happy moments and forget the pain and we shall feel proud of ourselves for giving this a shot. I can’t say how much I feel proud to be a Kiwi by residency and have three New Zealand born children.

This photograph I bought, whilst in San Francisco, last week, holds a lot of meaning to me.

America's Cup

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Linking up this post with ‘Things I’m Loving’ hosted as ‘Catalina’s Cottage‘ this week

The Photo Gallery | ‘Selfie’

Me in California

Sunshine smiles in California. This is me looking happy on a good day. A day before we started to try and integrate two, of our three, children into a new school, in a new country. A day after getting a lovely new vehicle to cruise around town in – a sunshine red VW Convertible. A day after I’d been out for a run along a scenic cliff-top over looking the Pacific Ocean.

We’ve since moved into a house that we’ve leased for one year. It’s a beautiful house, fully furnished, with a swimming pool – a ‘paradise’ in a warm, sunny climate. At home the children’s voices are happy. They keep themselves entertained, with little outings and plentiful good food to help themselves to when they feel hungry. But, it’s not our home, our house back in New Zealand. It’s a gated house, like most of the other properties surrounding us in this affluent neighbourhood. We can hear other children playing – but can’t see them. It’s not the same as our friendly, close knit neighbourhood, where we had lived as a family for seven years, in Wellington. We are missing our home, our routines, our friends, our local ‘haunts’. We are trying to live each day positively – but there is a sense of ‘holding back’ from all of us, a knowing that this is only a temporary stay in our lives.

It would be easier to be on the road travelling, moving from one place to the next, in some ways. Perhaps that is the solution. We use this house merely as our base. We embrace the online public school opportunity that is available here in the US and travel as much as we can, accompanying the man of the house on various business trips. This is a time of finding our way, our pace, deciding on how best to focus our time whilst we are here.

I need to feel that smile, that was from the heart last week. I need that smile to sparkle in my eyes and override the well of tears that seem to rise all too easily when the integration into a local school feels at ill with our family. Thank goodness for options is all I can say – now to choose the best fit for us!

Sarah

xx

Joining in with….

Sticky Fingers Photo Gallery

First impressions | School life in America

School commenced for two of our three children yesterday. Our ten year old has been attending school in New Zealand for five years and, apart from a somewhat dissatisfying, unchallenging experience in her first three years, she has pretty much excelled. She thrived at a private girls school she attended for the past two years and performed well above average in all subject areas, even as the youngest in her class.

Our seven year old had a terrible experience in her second term of schooling in a public school and we were all dissatisfied, as a family. As she was under the age of six at the time – and school is only compulsory at the age of six in New Zealand – we withdrew her. Then we heard about the possible move to America and decided it was better to home educate up until the move – little did we then know that the whole deal would take a year and a half to get to a point when we could actually move countries (we were initially given the impression it would be a few months!).

Anyway, here we are now in America.

Our unschooler – as we were enjoying child-led learning in our home with a wonderful group of natural learners – thrived in a home environment, socialising with other home learners. Her reading is well above the average for her age, as is her mathematics. She enjoyed various science experiments, played creatively and freely, without time constraints, along with her natural learner friends, came up with stories, plays and poems under her own drive, and read books with a lot more interest than her traditionally schooled older sister. Also, as she wasn’t confined by ‘time’, if she was avidly into a particular book she would read till midnight, knowing there was no rush for a bell the next day. She thrived.

On her first day at a proper school, here in America, she was naturally nervous – but her natural personality is outgoing, chatty, confident with strangers in shops, cafes, museums, enquiring, unafraid to try new tastes, physical pursuits and so on. She has hit gold with a wonderful, experienced Grade 2 teacher. Further more her teacher is one of those special ones that has always continued with her own learning and is very up to date with modern times, technology and teaching methods. Win, win! It looks like this school experience will be perfect for her, at this stage in her education, and of great benefit to her social nature.

Now, our other daughter, the high achiever, from a traditional, private, girls school, walked into a very different scenario. A mixed class of 10 and 11 year olds, non-uniformed, who all knew one another. There was no prior warning about standing up and pledging allegiance to the flag… (whereas Miss 7 was given prior warning and provided with an explanation as to why students in America did this). Miss 10, in contrast, was surrounded by students that suddenly stood up like robots and hand on heart started singing – she was left thinking, ‘What the f*ck?!’.

She also found herself with a teacher who was aghast at Miss 10 loving snakes and spiders (turns out – none of us knew this – her teacher has a spider phobia – oops!). Then there was the health and safety notices – which Miss 10 found totally over the top – coming from adventurous New Zealand, where calculated risks are a normal part of life – they even have fully equipped carpentry benches in pre-schools for three and four year olds – yes, hammers, saws, nails… (and I never heard of an accident). Children in New Zealand run barefoot, climb trees, jump in water holes, and are encouraged to test their own physical boundaries. The only people that blink an eye when a young child runs on the beach in their ‘Birthday suit’ are the foreign tourists.

Love this video ‘Frosty Man and the BMX Kid’ – sums it up nicely 😉

Plus the teacher was doing the ‘strict’ thing – which is understandable given it was the first day and there were probably a few personalities in the class that needed the ‘don’t mess with me’ message – unfortunately Miss 10 found her style abrupt and loud (and Miss 10 dislikes conflict, loud noises etc.).

Furthermore, Miss 10’s avid interest of watching film documentaries and passion for ‘Minecraft’ was met with disdain and a comment of, ‘Books are best’. Miss 10’s reaction was to maturely bottle in the tears, frustration and annoyance for the entire morning and then, only in the comfort of a private environment, let it out. She was devastated. The whole experience hit her with a sledge hammer of what she’d given up in New Zealand and the amazing friends she has there.

We are going to enjoy our time here (Dan and I would be really loving it, but happy children make happy parents… and until they are all settled, we shan’t feel top notch).

We shall meet with the school, the school counsellor, try and make it work for Miss 10 – but we don’t wish for her amazing education in New Zealand to be undermined and if the wrong teacher for her doesn’t work out, then we will stand by our daughter and ensure she retains her love of learning – even if we have to do online learning (which I am very pro-doing – hubbie a lot less so – as are the grandparents – that live in the UK; it’s not as though they really know what we are going through as we’ve been raising our children entirely single-handedly for the past decade in New Zealand). The biggest concern for hubbie and the grandparents is that ‘Sarah won’t cope’ – because I’m on antidepressants (and have been for over a decade). The truth is, I can cope. With exercise, medication and a happy family I am fine. It’s when I feel, in my heart and gut, that one of my children is genuinely not happy that the mother bear instincts in me cry out – not out of ‘protecting’ and ‘wrapping in cotton wool’, but of being my child’s advocate in an adult world and setting an example that the system isn’t always right and not to be accepted blindly – but, at times, worked around – even if many people see it as ‘radical’.

Of course she will be persuaded to give the school another chance and we will ask her to give us a full ‘pros and cons’ write-up of schooling in America for a year versus online learning – and then we shall discuss further.

We are not dictators of our children’s future – but here to guide them, let them feel confident to express themselves and know that their voices are listened to and respected.

Playing out the last weeks, Kiwi style.

The past few weeks have been filled with impromptu meet-ups and casually arranged gatherings with friends. It is very indicative of the way we’ve lived our lives here in New Zealand – a very relaxed, unstructured, casual, ‘go with the flow’, ‘she’ll be right, mate!’ kind of way. I still vividly remember having to adjust to the ‘Kiwi way’ in my early years here.

We soon got used to the ‘no flairs’ dress code, that ‘bare-feet’ were all good on almost any occasion and that ‘bring a plate’ and ‘pot luck dinners’ were all the rage. We learned to invite twice the number of people we expected to any BBQ, as Kiwis would casually roll up to the party – or not – depending on how they were ‘travelling’ on a given day – and that was ‘all good’, ‘no worries, mate’!

So, with the ‘big move’ looming on the calendar for the past few months, we’ve been asked, ‘Are you having a leaving doo?’ but have preferred to give the big ‘fanfare’ farewell a miss. Instead, we’ve spent quality time with small groups of friends, from all the different paths we’ve walked during our fifteen years or so of living in New Zealand.

I’m sure our friends won’t mind me sharing a few snapshots from the past few weeks. These photographs mean a lot to us, personally, but – from an outsiders perspective – they also shine a light on the relaxed way of life we’ve enjoyed living in Wellington, New Zealand.

There have been play-date days of gentle farewells at wonderful outdoor cafes…

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Time on the beach to focus on the now and have a breather from the packing and boxes…

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There have been casual evenings with old friends…

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And fun nights with our wonderful neighbours, friends and people that have helped to support us in raising our little Kiwi born children… (It takes a village, you know!).

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And whilst I’ve been at home, looking after our three children, my husband has been working hard to tie together all the logistics and administrative necessities of the big move (as well as holding down his job and being a great father!).  He has had Friday night drinks with his soccer team and old colleagues. Wellington is a close-knit business community and he’s made some amazing friendships over the years.

He has come home to countless requests for assistance with ‘MineCraft’ mods! Thankfully, he has incredible patience… often staying up till 11pm to spend quality time with his older daughters, after having been tied up with work all day.

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As well as entertaining his youngest daughter, with whatever game of the moment she is into… making cars and unicorns talk, or being rolled up like a sausage!

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It’s winter, but the sun has been mostly generous. The ground hasn’t been as calm – but living on the ‘shaky isles’ is something we made a choice to do – certainly keeps us on our toes and has a way of bringing the community closer – even having friends for to sleep over for an impromptu gathering after a rather strong quake!

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So many happy moments of life, simply lived, over the past few weeks. Moments we will treasure always and hold close in our hearts whilst we live on the other side of the Pacific Plate, in California, USA.

From the simple, universal joy and magic of bubbles in the garden with a friend…

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To an outing on Wellington’s beautiful waterfront, where two sisters have a laugh on electric cars and eating gelato…

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IMG_6410We will be back in Wellington, one day, for sure… maybe in a year, or three, or more. We are open to where this adventure will take us and how each person in the family feels.

It’s not as easy as the ‘before children’ days – and the older our children get the more their opinions, as to where to live, matter!

They are so fortunate to have such opportunities to explore.

I am sure, once we’ve settled in Santa Barbara, California, our children will adapt with greater ease than myself!

We shall take every day, every week and every year as it comes…

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