friends

At home with my folks, Hampshire, England

It’s been a fortnight since we returned from the UK to the US. We are heading back to New Zealand to live at the beginning of October, but for now we’re in limbo; between the two places we love.

I haven’t felt like writing anything much, but have tried to fit in a little reminiscing about our trip. It’s bittersweet to write about the times we shared with our wonderful family and friends whilst in the UK: On the one hand, the photos and memories make the trip linger on and make everyone we love there feel closer; On the other hand, I’m thrown against the wall of reality – that we shan’t see them for a year or so, at the least, and we are about to move even further away again – back to New Zealand.

On every trip back there are always so many people we don’t manage to meet up with; as well as all the wonderful reunions I write about. I haven’t seen many cousins, aunts and uncles in well over a decade. The UK is my home of birth, but not my children’s home. They were born in New Zealand and, as much as they’ve enjoyed this time living in the US, are looking forward to getting back there.

I am forever torn in two – trying to be positive for my children and their future (for sure they have an amazing life in New Zealand and a wonderful future with so much freedom of choice and opportunities), whilst feeling guilty at not being there for my folks. I feel driven to write down all the events, both big and small, that make up the passages of time; clinging on to them to protect them from fading. However faded those memories become they will live on in photographs and the love that we shall always feel in our hearts.

So, this is what it is; a place where I can write about the times we have shared and safeguard them in some small way.

Our last week in Europe was spent with my Mum and Dad in their Hampshire home.

My dear folks with their youngest granddaughter, Alice

It’s where they have lived for thirty-five years and where I grew up. My best-friend, from when I was 11, still lives a few houses away and many of my other school friends have stayed and are seeing their own children pass through the schools we went to. The week was one of spending time with people that have touched my life throughout the years and still mean so much to me. I caught up with friends over coffee, at local pubs, even at a new trampoline centre (anything to keep the children happy!).

Old University friends of both my husband and I (yes, we met way back then… at Southampton University) came together. We shared memories, talked of our different life journeys – the happy and sad parts that combine to make life’s rich tapestry – and looked forward through our children’s eyes at what is yet to be.

We took a day trip into London with my folks and our children, walking through the parks and admiring the sights steeped in history. Hubby took our older two children to the theatre to see ‘Phantom of the Opera’, whilst I spent a lovely afternoon boating along the river Thames with our youngest daughter and my folks.

The week came to a close on a Friday. Our flight scheduled to leave Saturday afternoon. The last day was spent sharing my best friend’s celebration of her youngest son turning ten. She kindly invited us to share the ‘football party’. It was lovely to see her sons and my daughters getting on so easily.

In the afternoon one of our nephew’s, Michael, came down from his University digs, along with his lovely girlfriend, to spend the evening with  hubby and I. One of the binding memories of our visit to the UK this time round was how our daughters enjoyed the company of their older cousins – they were reunited with all but one of their six cousins. All their cousins are boys, and most are a fair bit older, but the bond of family made their union easy.

Michael, Sophie & Alice

Likewise, the bond between Aunts and Uncles and the girls, their nieces, was lovely to see.

Seeing my sister and having the chance to head out for a run with her was a special highlight for me (yes, I’m still running – before wine… have to earn it now I’m forty!).

My sister and I

The memories will live on in our hearts forever xxx

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Linking up with ‘The Photo Gallery’ at Sticky Fingers

 

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.

My first half marathon – in the bag & for a great cause!

I woke at 5am feeling nervous about whether my ankle was going to hold out for me to complete the half marathon in the beautiful wine country of Santa Barbara, California. I wasn’t just running to achieve a goal for myself, or to take in the beautiful scenery surrounding of the Santa Ynez Valley, but running for a cause. A close friend in New Zealand has a wonderful son who battles with pain day and night. He has rare ‘Prune Belly Syndrome’, amongst other conditions. His name is Elijah and through all the pain he suffers he keeps his humour and fights to embrace life with all he’s got. His spirit is supported by his wonderful brother and sister. They are amazing in helping their solo Mum take care of Elijah.

running for Elijah

I’d given myself just eleven weeks to train for the half marathon. Before the training I’d never ran past 10 km (around 6 miles). I had to work to build up strength and stamina, whilst all the time feeling grateful and in awe of what my healthy body could achieve the more I trained. Along the way friends, family and strangers rallied around to donate to help Elijah, through the fundraising page I’d set up on Give a Little NZ – Running for Elijah (which is still open for any last minute donations!). I hoped to raise $NZ 500, but my hopes were gratefully exceeded.

Race day came and my hubbie woke early with me. We were lucky to have a friend staying from NZ and she’d kindly said she’d look after our three daughters, whilst hubbie drove me to the race (a 40 minute drive from Santa Barbara). It meant the world to me having him there.

He dropped me off at the start point, where I picked up my bib and took a swig of energy drink. Then I joined the lines of people waiting to use a porta loo, where the humour and pre-race atmosphere was high. In the sky above the throngs of runners, nearly 3,000 in total, a Go Pro camera hovered on a mini helicopter device, taking in the scene.

With minutes to the start time, of 7am, I dashed from the porta loo (made it just in the nick of time, phew!) to the race. I looked for the pacer holding the two and a half hour sign. I knew, if I wasn’t for my ankle, I could have lined up with the 1 hour 50 minute pacer, but I was planning to start out at a comfortable pace and hope to high heaven my ankle would hold it together.

Start line

In training I always had a tendency to start off fast, but there was no chance of that in the race. I was surrounded by a sea of bodies moving happily in the same direction and the pace was comfortable.

First mile

After the first mile I started to edge forward, until by the sixth mile I knew I was going to finish the race. The sea of bodies had turned into a gentle flow over the country lanes. I had space to run and had found my pace. The scenery was beautiful. I felt like I was back in New Zealand, in the wine country of the Wairarapa at the bottom of the North Island.

Beautiful scenery

Along the course locals stood at their gates with coffees in hand and cow bells clanging in support. Every couple of miles friendly folks offered up water at the water stations and gave words of support.

The course undulated over rolling hills and for every uphill push there was a flying down hill decent, which I leaned into and relished.

Up the hill!

By the tenth mile I felt a little lag in my legs, but just kept going. My energy levels were dropping a little, but my spirit was strong. The uphill sections felt a little tougher, but the supporters along the way kept me running, along with my inner voice telling me to just keep on going!

I was so relieved to see the finish line and the throngs of people cheering me in. I scanned the crowd, looking for my hubbie, but heard him before I saw him. ‘Sarah!’ he called out. Hearing my name from his lips was music to my ears.

As I crossed the line in 1 hour 57 minutes and 16 seconds, a friendly face handed me a medal and I slowly walked through the crowds to my waiting hubbie.

At the finish line!

I did it! I couldn’t believe it and was so thankful to my ankle for holding out.

Elijah’s running tags on my laces had given me strength and a sprinkling of fairy dust 😉

After strolling around Solvang, and getting in a post race latte, hubbie drove me back to Santa Barbara, with the top down on the VW and the sun smiling down on us.

Driving home

My daughters gave me a wonderful greeting when I walked in the front door and spent the rest of the day telling me how they wanted to race too. Miss 8 even took her Daddy out for the first stage of a couch to 5k training schedule (whilst I rested my ankle on ice!).

Linking up with…

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…

Things I’m Loving | A Pirate Lunch that rolls on all afternoon…

Ahoy me hearties!

It started with a treasure hunt, through dinosaur den, bamboo forest and pirate hideout; before quickly rolling into pin the tail on the tic-toc croc and find the gold doubloons in the sand.

Treasure hunt

There was blue jelly with orange boats sailing the high seas, a water melon doubling up as ship and a chocolate cake pirate hat, inspired by the Disney ‘Jake and the Neverland Pirate Party‘.

Pirate ship melon boat

The afternoon was full of pirate dancing and walking the rock (since we did’t have a plank). There was barely a dry pirate in sight.

Walk the rock!

Miss 4, our ‘Pirate Princess’ was delighted that her dashing pirate companion, Ollie, was there to ride the high seas with her; whilst the older pirates checked on the rum supplies and tried to keep the inflatables afloat in a storm of giggling, wriggling, little pirate limbs.

Pirate friend

Miss 8 and 10 led the younger pirates in their treasure hunting and game play, whilst practicing their knot tying skills on any unruly little scallywags (not that anyone was really a scallywag – a pirates were on top form – we were just glad the life-sized cardboard one on the front door didn’t come to life!).

Alice and the pirate

A pirate lunch should happen more often on a Sunday afternoon me thinks. Aye, it was pure gold me hearties!

Linking up with my friend Meghan at ‘The Adventures of MNMs’ for…

An English Wedding & a reunion of old friends (Part 2 of my trip to the UK)

I have missed so many weddings in England over the past fifteen years living in New Zealand. My dearest friends from school, college and University days have met their sweethearts, walked down the aisle, partied like there’s no tomorrow, all whilst I’ve been wishing for someone to invent instant travel through time. Unfortunately, often laden with a child, and the cost of travelling some 36 hours across the world, the feasibility of me managing to materialise for those weddings has been zero to impossible. But, in this one instance, placed a little closer around the globe to England (on the Californian Coast of the USA, as opposed to Wellington, New Zealand) I felt better placed (and granted more well financed, with children not in babyhood) to make the journey.

This was to be the wedding of the century to date (bearing in mind that I was married last century, ha, ha, and I have three daughters that may, or may not, get married one day… but I am SO not ready to think about the latter just yet!).

It was the wedding of one of my dearest University pals to her long time sweetheart.

Wedding of Alice and Mike

At the wedding were several University pals – making it quite the reunion, some twenty years since we graduated – or there about. It was an opportunity to finally meet the respective other halves that I’d heard my Uni pals dream about in drunken stupor at the University of Southampton, to hear about their off spring, to discuss life on the cusp – or having just turned – forty… and to compare smile lines. It was one of the last friends, of my close buddies from Uni days, to walk down the aisle and the timing was perfect. I wasn’t going to miss this wedding for all the tea in China (or, more apt to my personal circumstances, all the potential wedding YouTube video takes of the wedding). I had to be there.

Surprisingly, my usual instinct to capture every moment on camera totally evaded me at the wedding (and the photographs I did take, later in the evening when the dancing got going… are probably best not shared here – lest I risk ending those very long, special friendships!). I was so caught up in the moment, and literally shaking with excitement at being there, that it felt totally inane to get out my camera. I wanted to embrace the moment heart and soul and, during the service especially, didn’t feel right intervening on the magic of the moment (besides, there were professionals employed to do that already!).

And magical moments there were indeed… The dear youngest son of the bride and groom walked down the aisle, at the tender age of four, holding a sign reading, ‘Daddy, here comes your Bride’! He walked with  a strong step, but bashfully hid behind the sign; the perfect blend of confidence and innocent shyness. He continued, throughout the wedding, past the dinner, speeches and first dance, with equal perfection of character, finishing up with a party building dance of ‘Gangman Style’ on the dance floor!

After the service, at the historic house of ‘The Grove‘, in Hertfordshire, England (where the presence of early man on the land dates back to 7,000 BC!) we were treated to champagne and canapes (which I can never manage to eat without making a mess and general fool of myself – so passed on several times, whilst trying to sip s.l.o.w.l.y. on the champagne!). Whilst we caught up with one another and marvelled at the gorgeous Mr & Mrs in their finery (and pondered on sharing the same space that, once upon a time, Queen Victoria, King Edward, Tiger Woods and many more illustrious guests have stayed, played and partied) roving entertainers kept us all amused (not that we really needed anything extra, but they certainly left an impression… a magician, a pick-pocket and caricature artists!).

Feeling pleasantly relaxed the bell was rung for dinner and we all made our way to our tables for the dinner and speeches  (little did we all know, there were some ‘singing waiters’ to keep us all in high spirits, no chance of a post dinner snooze! By the time the singing waiters had finished with us, we were all ears for the speeches and feeling pumped up for an evening’s dancing.).

I have to mention here how particularly special this dear friend of mine is. I’ve only ever known her to be smiling, positive, caring and thinking of others. Life has dealt her a tough hand; with the unexpected and sudden death of her father to a brain tumour and, a few year’s later, her dear sister, Lauren, also passed away due to brain cancer.  Both her and dear Mum have been absolute troupers. My friend, Alice, raised nearly £40,000 for Cancer Research UK and carried the Olympic Torch through Hatfield, UK, on Sunday July 8 2012;

“Thanks to support of Lauren’s friends and family and the very generous donations, inspired by Lauren’s story. A big honour for me, and a huge source of amusement for Lauren, I’m sure!” (Alice Breheny)

And so, as anyone reading this will imagine, this wedding was extremely touching in so many ways, not just on the happy union of two incredible people, but in memory of two very special people, taken too soon. It was a wedding filled with happiness, tears, laughter, memories and positive thoughts to the future – the full roller coaster of emotions!

As the official photographer rightly puts it (and you simply MUST check out the incredible photographs!);

“Anyone who was bored at Alice and Mike’s wedding at the Grove last weekend deserved to be thrown out.  They were determined to give their guests a great time and every minute of the day was filled.  In no particular order they had … the beautiful setting of The Grove, candy floss, a photobooth, a caricaturist, Keith the Thief (a pickpocket), a magician (amazing), hilarious and very talented singing waiters, a spectacular evening disco, a dancing competition and air guitars.  And best of all a great crowd of friends and family who lapped it up and rocked the night away.  Add to that a fantastic couple and their four much loved children to welcome everyone and it all adds up to quite some wedding.”

It really was one of the best weddings I have ever attended. There was such a positive vibe amongst everyone and it was definitely worth the flight to be there! Alice, ever thoughtful and caring, left a surprise waiting for me on the dinner table at the wedding, which brought a tear to my eye…

A beautiful gift from my friend

I danced the night away with my Uni friends and finally got to sleep about 2am ish… only to be woken around 8.30 am isn for a drive up to the Peak District to see my dear sister and her man! Thankfully I wasn’t driving – my dear folks had stayed the night at The Grove too, and joined in the dancing (but turned in at a more sensible hour!).

What a wedding! I wish Mike and Alice very many happy, wonderful years together and Mike, you are indeed ‘A very lucky man!’…

A very lucky man!

 

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

Loving: A bunch of Kiwis doing Thanks Giving USA

With our NZ neighbours visiting us in our temporary home in the USA we had the perfect reason to celebrate and feast. So we spent a relaxed day at home, preparing the table, for a Thanks Giving feast. Young Miss 3 delighted in sticking cloves into oranges, Miss 10 made up some name-places for the table and we threw on our New Zealand ‘Pohutukawa’ table cloth for a touch of ‘Kiwiana’.

Thanks Giving table

The man of the house was the ‘Master Chef’ and cooked up a delightful feast. We all sat down and toasted to friendship, feeling very thankful for the opportunity to be together and share a meal.

Cheers!

In between the feasting there was the New York ‘Thanks Giving Parade’ screening on television in the morning and college American football in the afternoon, whilst the turkey was cooking. The children played in the pool and around the house, working up a good appetite for dinner!

And of course, we had to try a ‘pumpkin pie’ – which was actually delicious, served with ice-cream and cream. Yum!

A really lovely day, made special shared with friends and definitely a tradition to transport back to New Zealand with us – but as more of a ‘Harvest Festival’ celebration at the end of Autumn in New Zealand.

Loved it! Happy Thanks Giving!

LOVING our New Zealand neighbours being here with us in the USA!

They arrived today! Our wonderful New Zealand neighbours. Our children are ecstatic and it’s magic for us adults to see them all together. Their ages span from three to ten, but all five children (three of them being our crazy girls) are like a little family in their own right. They mix up play between them all and have so much fun together. We have yet to get a photograph of them all together (any attempts are faced with silly faces, ducking behind pillars and under tables, diving under the water or behind a Christmas tree… sigh!).

We left sunny Santa Barbara at 9.30am this morning and arrived in a rainy Disney just after midday. The sight that greeted was beautiful Christmas poinsettias and the biggest, twinkling Christmas tree in the entrance room of Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa. Very magical indeed!

Christmas is BIG at Disney!

Within half an hour of us arriving at the hotel, our dear friends arrived (we’d arranged a limo to pick them up at Los Angeles Airport after their long haul flight from New Zealand).

I was relieved the drive wasn’t as bad as I’d anticipated (imagine the worse and it can only be better – right?!). With only Miss 3 as my passenger in my lovely turbo VW red bug (the other two drove in comfort with their Dad – who I tailed most of the way through LA), it was a surprisingly relaxed drive. She slept half the way, and spent the remaining half of the journey happily taking in the scenery.

Arriving at the hotel

The drive down started with the beautiful coastline south from Santa Barbara towards LA, in glorious sunshine…

Leaving sunny Santa Barbara

– before hitting the outskirts of LA and five lanes of highway in each direction (that’s when I refrained from being a speed demon, leaving my husband to chase my tail, and took time out to follow his tail through the heavier traffic and lane switches to keep us in the right direction for Disney!).

Our first afternoon together has been so much fun and it’s as though we’ve never been apart. Our friends had incredible stamina to stay awake till 10.30pm pacific time here (after not getting much sleep on their long haul from NZ). The children even all managed a swim in the hotel pool at 9.30pm!

I’m now signing off, as this Disneyland stuff takes a lot of stamina (whilst my dear hubbie is still out in the park – with our two eldest daughters – and it’s close to midnight!). He sent this pic and I can’t WAIT to see this with my own eyes tomorrow!

Disneyland castle

Good night from here, sweet dreams and may all your wishes come true!

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Linking this post up with my lovely friend Meghan in Wellington, New Zealand, who really makes the most out of life.

The Photo Gallery | Play

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They play so easily, these two friends.
Ideas roll, with fluid simplicity.
They talk in a language of their own.
Perfectly balanced, like a well crafted bridge.

Let’s hope the ocean, that now divides them –
Is to them but a stream, to step over.
In their imaginations, they can be –
Free to fly, to jump, to stay connected.

Young friendships like this are such a gift –
When play comes, with such cooperative ease.

They will carry memories of their play,
deep in their hearts and minds –
Until they are united, some other day.

Sticky Fingers Photo Gallery