UK

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

 

LA to UK for 4 days, sans children. A once in a decade trip! Part 1

It was my first trip away in ten years, without wearing my mother and wife ‘hats’. An old University friend in the UK was the carrot and after ten years of at home parenting (mostly as an expat in New Zealand), with only one night away (ever; and that was when I had two daughters, not three), it was a well overdue trip. It took lots of friendly encouragement from friends to give me the confidence, before hubbie gave me the final push – by booking the flight for me! There was no excuse now!

So it was, that I boarded the air-coach at Santa Barbara on a Thursday morning, to travel to Los Angeles and then fly to London Heathrow for a four day stay, wearing only my daughter, sister and friend hats. It seemed easier to fly ‘across the pond’ (the Atlantic) than it ever would have been to do a short trip home to the UK from New Zealand, our home of over fifteen years. Half the cost, half the distance, half the travel time.

The biggest ‘pull’ to living for a year or so in the USA with three children (for hubbie’s work), was knowing I’d be a little closer to my beloved family in the UK; so it was only right that I made the most of the opportunity. Hubbie insisted that they would cope without me (but I still employed someone to help out on the days he would be working from home – knowing full well that little work would be possible with the ever present zest of our wonderful Miss 3 and home-educated Miss 8 and 10!).

Boarding the air-coach was easier than I could have anticipated, with all three children being genuinely positive with their send off. There were no tears, no guilt trips, no desperate pleas to join me. So I stepped onboard with light feet and excitement, feeling instantly free of responsibility. A two hour coach trip, four hour wait at LAX and ten hour flight was ahead of me – time, more than I can remember having in the past decade, for reading, shopping, browsing the latest book releases, eating at leisure, watching movies and staring out of the window for some uninterrupted day-dreaming.

The flight was quiet, with almost everyone in the back third of the plane having a line of seats to themselves. There were hardly any children to remind me of my own (though one did pipe up about the time I knew my brood would be heading off to sleep in California – which resulted in me having a little sob!). I got those tears out of my system, sipped a wine, put on my eye-mask, plugged in ear-plugs and breathed deeply – I’d need all the rest possible – as I was due to arrive in London Heathrow at 11am (3am in California).

My agenda for the four day trip was a stay at my childhood home in Fleet (after landing at LHR at 11am and catching a breath of fresh air at the amazing Wisley Gardens), and a catch up with my best-friend, on the Friday night; a wedding on Saturday, at The Grove, Hertfordshire; a trip up to the Peak District to see my sister on Sunday; a return drive on Monday, from the Peak District in northern England to Hampshire in southern England, an evening watching Giselle, the ballet, at a cinema in Camberley (live screened, globally, from the Royal Opera House in London); before a 6am departure on the last day for my return flight.

I landed in LHR ahead of time and cleared border control and customs before my folks had even arrived at the airport to greet me (it was a lot easier to power walk from the airplane to border control without children trailing bags and needing toilet stops!).

My folks surprised me with a visit to Wisley Gardens, enroute to my childhood home in Fleet, Hampshire. It was just the fix my body needed after a long haul flight and six months of living under Californian blue southern skies, where I’ve only seen rain in two days! I was hungry for ‘real weather’, green grass, air temperatures that make a person feel alive, savoury foods and a proper cup of tea in a china cup! At Wisley Gardens I was immersed in historic architecture and gardens willed with familiar trees from my childhood in Hampshire.

Wisley Gardens, England

I borrowed my Dad’s camera and turned into an obvious ‘tourist’, finding excitement in what the locals would take for granted: Silver birch trees and pussy willows dangling over a river in flood, holly bushes and snow-drops, grass so green it was luminescent and watered only by nature’s hand, hellebores in flower and even a tree in blossom. I barely had a moment to think about my dear daughters in the USA, as I was so immersed in the moment!

Wisley Gardens, England

My senses were alive with getting a fix of nature, British style, and the fresh air was fighting off my jet lag with a brisk hand.

Wisley Gardens, England

 

Unfortunately the fresh air wasn’t quite enough to completely banish the fuzzy head of long-haul and a nap would be needed if I was going to manage to stay up till bedtime, so it was home to Fleet we went. My dear Mum tucked me up in bed with a hot water bottle, under instructions to wake me about 5pm.

A refreshing nap and I was ready to catch up with my best friend from school days. I wish I could have stayed up longer, but with a wedding to attend the next day, I needed some shut eye!

To be continued…

Back to better health & really ready for 2014

There’s nothing worse than flu to knock a person off kilter. It’s worse when the whole family, children and all, are affected. It’s forced us all to slow down and write off the first week or so of this New Year. The only silver lining for the adults, particularly me, has been a forced detox – as I felt too ill to even think about having a wee drop of red (I even went off coffee for five days!). Anyway, that is all now in the past. A few snuffles and coughs linger in the children, but (touch wood, cross fingers, do not let this blog post be a jinx!) we are on the road to recovery and can finally look forward to making this year a positive one of action and happy memory making.
Kite flying with Grandma & Granddad at Santa Barbara Beach
We’ve already made some gems, with so many happy moments cherished with Grandma & Granddad visiting from the UK – on the beach…
On the beach with Grandma & Granddad
And exploring at the pier…
Sea Center, Stearns Wharf, Santa Barbara

Having my dear folks over from the UK was an absolute blessing. The day we returned from our family holiday in San Diego (which wasn’t without illness either), hubbie had to travel to Cincinnati for a couple of days work. He was staying in the middle of no where, and his trip happened to coincide with the worse weather in a couple of decades. A ‘polar vortex’ descended on central USA and he just happened to be right in the middle of it. He made it there okay, thank goodness, but it wasn’t a surprise that his return was delayed (thankfully by only one night – it could have been much worse). Whilst he was away the flu struck me down. I was a shivering mess, alternating between feverishly hot to down-right freezing, unable to warm up, even under copious layers of blankets. It’s horrible being ill, but even worse when you are a parent and one’s own children are also ill. I was just so, so grateful my folks were here and well enough to do the supermarket runs, which kept us all well provisioned with healthy food and plenty of liquids.

We spent many hours in bed, or on the sofa, thankful for the pleasant surroundings of the house we’re staying. Granddad and Alice hung up the humming-bird feeder, which him and Grandma had given us for Christmas, and we sat by the window, sipping cups of ‘get better tea’, looking out for birds.

In the garden
In between supermarket runs, and making sure we were all resting up, they did get out for a couple of gentle walks and enjoyed exploring some of the local scenery in Santa Barbara. From on high, where the hand gliders launch themselves …
Hills overlooking Santa Barbara
To the coastline, where the bird life is plentiful and entertaining to watch – darting in and out of the surf and swooping low over the sea looking for a snack.
Hendry's Beach, Santa Barbara
We are now, thank goodness, looking and feeling brighter. We bid farewell to my dear folks today; they are on their return to the UK as I write, and are ready to take on this year with renewed positivity.
Goleta Beach, UCSB Lagoon

We will continue with our adventures in California until September and then head home to, much loved and missed, New Zealand. Our oldest is trying a new school, our youngest taking a look at a play-school and our middle daughter, who turned eight on Boxing Day, is carrying on in her own un-schooling way. She saw in her Birthday with a visit to the cinema to see ‘Frozen’ and a spin on the ice skating rink.

The evenings will get lighter and we have two summer’s in a row to look forward to. My first gentle jog of the year has been accomplished and given me the impetus to keep fit and healthy. I can finally feel, after a week of not feeling much positivity at all, that I’m ready to welcome 2014 and get it moving, onwards and upwards. This moving to a new country for a year, with three children, hasn’t been easy, though from ‘the outside looking in’ it all seems exciting. For us, the highs and lows seem more undulating, unpredictable and harder to ride at times. Each day, each week, each month, we look back, on all we have done, look at the smiling faces in the photographs, and take stock, whilst thinking – always – of our friends and home in New Zealand.

Miramar Beach, Santa Barbara
Hoping this blog post finds you in good health and spirits at the start of the year x

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 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