Our Schoolboy

In January, just as he turned four, we had the slightly agonising task of deciding whether Kazuo should start school this summer, or defer until he was five and a half.  In England he would start this year as all children begin school in the academic year in which they turn five. In New Zealand it would be next January, after his fifth birthday.  But here in Scotland all children born July-Nov start when they will be turning five, all children born Feb-June wait to start the following year when they will be five at the start of the academic year, but children born Dec-Jan May start when they are Four or Five and the govt offers them an extended year of preschool funding if they defer.

It seemed, on the first exploration, that the academic, social, physical and emotional developmental advantages associated with deferral would follow him right through to tertiary education, making it seem like a no-brander to defer. However, when we considered our limited options for finding Kazuo a slightly more stimulating environment for another year of  preschool, coupled with his eagerness to learn new things and the charms of our newly refurbished village school – starting school this year won the argument.

No sooner had we made this decision, but we discovered we were expecting another little family member to arrive about a month after school was due to start, meaning I would be able to be home on maternity leave for all of Kazou’s first year at school.

As the year progressed, it became quite clear we’d made the right choice for our wee lad. His other two ‘besties’ we’re also graduating from preschool, smoothing the transition and not leaving our boy feeling left behind. He also came along in leaps and bounds both in his interest in alpha-numerical learning and in social skills.

But the fact still remained that, whilst being quite chatty and sociable when in a safe environment, he is still quite apprehensive about new experiences and social groups and so much of the summer was spent in a state of increasingly nervous agony about the prospect of starting school – often heightened by the fact that it was all anyone else seemed to talk about.

Finally the big day came.  He was SO proud of his new uniform (with the smiley sun, Mama’) and after a back-to-school playday in the village hall the previous week (which had both intensified his apprehension and smoothed over some of his fears) had at least given him a sense of who his new peers would be, he was quite bold and excited to be heading off to school.

We had the inevitable anxiety and tears on the first couple of mornings, but these transitions were mercifully eased by the wonderful Aunty Kelly, whom we had persuaded to extend her summer hols in order to be after-school nanny for Kazuo and to see us through until we brought the new baby home from the hospital ext month.

It is quite wonderful to be able to report the school is going swimmingly. Kaz confidently reports that it is much more fun and interesting than preschool (which he loved). He has a very kind senior buddy who helps him through the minefield of gathering his lunch each day and plays with him and his new friends in the playground during breaks. He has begun soccer club and thoroughly loves running about after the ball in the QPR kit Grandma and Grandpa sent. His class has outdoor education lessons at nearby Craighall Den every Wednesday and he loves to be outdoors exploring. His fascination with words and numbers has taken off and he is regularly sounding out words he spies on everything from cereal packs to junk mail. Our evening reading sessions are a delight!

We are so glad and grateful to have a big schoolboy in our midst – the next big life milestone will be turning into a big brother in a few week’s time. Let’s hope that is an equally smooth transition!

My first day!

Start as You Mean to Continue

This may seem like a morbid start to the year, but we took the wee one to St Andrews Cathedral a couple of days ago to let off some steam (read: pursue the enemy alien baddies and use the force to rescue the goodies) and this message captivated me entirely. The topic of mortality is a bit of a raw issue in our house, the wee one is still trying to get his head around it after a string of bereavements (of the human and animal variety) in the past year and no-one really wants to contemplate their not-being-ness for too long now do they?  But by far the most memorable start to a lecture series ever was the inestimable Roger Robinson quoting from the funeral sentences in the Book of Common Prayer – ‘In the midst of life we are in death…‘ and this thought has stayed with me for most of my adult life.  Life is joyous and fabulous in so many ways…yet shadowed always by the hint of our tenous grip on existence. The love I am so grateful to share now will sustain me through the pain of life – and the dizzying heights of happiness that life brings will always be a little shot through with the fragility of mortality.

Intimations of mortality at the start of a new year

With this music faintly ringing in my ear, I resolve to grasp life firmly this year, and to try to do the following…

  • Walk up this hill at least once a month (once a week would be good, but wholly unrealistic, given our schedule and the weather!):

Half way up

  • Organise the little bits of chaos around the house – in particular, find the books a new home, like this beauty maybe:

Books need a new home

  • Whip myself back into shape, perhaps with the help of a weekly class in the village, which is long overdue:


  • Figure out whether or not it is time for the wee guy to begin school here:

Ceres Primary School

  • Take ourselves off for at least a week in the sun – hopefully somewhere like this:

Cote d'Azur cottage

  • Treat myself to a night at the ballet:

Highland fling

  • Spend more time outdoors with these guys:

Sunny New Year's Day on top of the hill

  • Find a place and time to give a little back in gratitude for all that is good in our lives.

Of course, life may get in the way of all these intentions…but it is wonderfully freeing to be poised on the brink of a new year, ready to blow the cobwebs of the old year out of your head and attempt to live a little more purposefully through the coming months.  Happy New Year everyone!

Christmas Recap

And, January disappeared!  Where did it go?  Before the rest of the year escapes me…let me fill in a couple of gaps.  Christmas was a fab festivity.  Finally I get why it becomes all about the kiddoes – Kaz had a marvellous time.  With all of it!  He began by eagerly anticipating the arrival of the southern family members:

He woke at a wonderfully civilised hour on the day, but we whiled away half an hour in bed opening the stocking treasures – which staved off the eager anticipation of the presents under the tree until breakfast and lunch prep was dispatched with.

And finally, the presents!  He delighted us with squeals, clapping, punctuating his delighted expressions of ‘wow’ with huge beaming smiles and little shivers of glee. He was VERY grateful.

Table decor was simple this year – cobbling together some outdoorsy elements (branches from the garden, conkers we saved from yesteryear, tiny pinecones), wedding linen from Ireland, Great Grandma’s crystal, little glasses from Egypt and some cute napkins with robins and a St Louis MO postage stamp on them.  A little bit of our family story everywhere…

Kaz kept himself occupied through dinner with the cracker treats…

…and after dinner he managed to sing the ABC song 26 times with Grandpa and Dada helping him along to complete the very colourful Lion puzzle from Nana in New Zealand.  It was a charming and very relaxing day – it seems worlds away, but it was a lovely festival.  Hopefully, I will have some more contemporary news in a day or two, still catching up with myself!

Happy Father’s Day – ish

I know, I am a little late.  But last weekend we were so busy having a lovely time that I didn’t get on here to record…and then the week filled up with graduation events at the University and sadly I didn’t take any pics of that (note to self…all that lovely ancient pomp and ceremony DEMANDS some photo effort next year!)…and we are back into the treadmill of househunting since we put in an offer on a beautiful river-front villa a few weeks back and didn’t make it through the mire of the Scottish system of closing-date blind bidding…

But amidst a little anti-Father’s-Day protesting from the paternal one, Kaz and I still got up early and made Dada some River-Cottage blueberry pancakes together last Sunday – here is my little chef amidst the chaos of early morning kitchening:

And the wee one had made Dada a card at Nursery, so that took pride of place at breakfast:

Then we ventured out to Kingsbarns to poke amongst the rockpools – one of the things I love most about living here in this northern kingdom is how easy it is to get outside somewhere lovely quickly…and I love that the doctor is happy with the simple things in life on the weekends – from Kaz and I, we just want to say: Dada…you’re great!


It has been a strange week in the world it seems.  Yesterday I had the somewhat surreal experience of looking after my little corner of the department while everyone else worked down the street as stewards for the visit of these two:

It was a big day for my new department – many of whom had been responsible for the smooth organisation of this hurried but much lauded visit.  And it will generate a lot of work for us in the coming months.  Since I was within cooee, but unable to see any of the proceedings, I watched live on the BBC website – and spent most of the morning really seeing what was happening in Libya – understandably MUCH more momentous.  The Middle East may never be the same after all the upheavals happening in that part of the world.  It is as if the fabric of the cosmos is coming a little undone daily… And such a huge loss of life…

Then of course there has been the utterly devastating tragedy that is unfolding in my homeland.  Poor poor Christchurch.  Like most Kiwis, we all know someone, or have connections with someone in Christchurch.  It was a few days until I was certain that none of my relatives were trapped or missing – for that we are all grateful.  Though picking up the fabric of their lives will be slow and costly and in the intervening period, painful and frightening at times.

I was also relived to hear from one dear friend, based in Cambridge, who was back in NZ on maternity leave with her young son and husband.  Thankfully they emerged unscathed from the Christchurch Arts Centre that afternoon – though how they did so is still a matter of some huge relief for them I am sure.

There are many online efforts to help the people of Christchurch…if you get a chance, here are a few I have come across that I am keen to support:



It has been a week of massive upheaval in many places…I hope you are safe and untroubled…but my thoughts are with those who are not…may peace reign again soon, wherever you find yourself.

Transition Time

The Holmes and Rahe stress scale is a list of 43 stressful life events that can contribute to illness.  Some years I have gathered a pretty impressive score on this scale…Making big changes to one’s life can either be rather liberating, or downright terrifying.  Strangely, although I think I am a pretty stressy, nervy, risk-averse kinda girl, I usually welcome change.  It feels refreshing, and full of possibility.

When we moved here to Scotland, everything was up for grabs.  The one known factor in the mix was Akira’s job…so nice, and so rare, to have something permanent and fixed that we could do all the rest of our reconfiguring around.  But then, since I have effectively been in some kinda limbo since we left York in 2008…there was a lot of rapid reshuffling to do on my part.

Though I promised to muse here on those things…they seemed a little close to my inner tranquility.  And so unresolved. I think I just wanted to the Universe to reach down and solve all the ‘issues’…and in a little way, that is what I think might be happening.  Though it is taking me kicking and writhing a little too…

I had considered all kinds of things…self-employment (still attractive, but taking more resources/gumption than may be currently available)…re-training (again, an attractive option, but maybe needing more time than I currently have available)…returning to teaching (a less-attractive option that would have involved jumping through a lot of hoops, and taken up rather more time and energy than I was willing to devote)…and of course I was really hoping for part-time work (perfect scenario – except that around here, there was NOTHING on offer that would cover the cost of childcare)…staying home for another year with Kazuo until his daycare is partially state-funded (perhaps another great option, but rather delaying the other hoped-for benefits of re-entering the paid workforce).

Then, rather suddenly (though not without a little effort on my part)…a kinda perfect opportunity presented itself…and I will be off to daily paid full-time work at the University this coming Monday.  Kazuo will begin full-time nursery school – a prospect that probably fills us both with equal dread.  Except that I KNOW he knows we love him…I KNOW that the nursery will take good care of him…I KNOW that in the long term many of the things we hope for as a family will be facilitated by this transition…and although I will miss Kazuo and Mama days desperately…and I will miss the wonderful things that come from being the person who sees him day in day out…we will weather the storms of this transition too…and there is good to come through all of this – and I am SO grateful for the joys of two wonderful years of being always with our delightful boy.

‘Not Working’ is due for a change as I will be working EVERYWHERE…I hope to roll out the new look this weekend…and let’s see how the universe and I manage THIS transition…

How We Celebrated Two Great Years…

After Christmas came the birthday…and this year Kazuo had it all figured out.  Birthdays involved a party which consisted of friends (thankfully we could finally muster up a couple of lovely ones with whom we have recently had the joy of becoming acquainted), balloons, his birthday banner and a cake with candles:

I decided to get a little crafty.  To keep it simple but still have something for the wee ones to take home I sewed up some little birdy bags and made some finger puppets a la MadebyJoel and I sewed up a playmat for Kaz that has a landscape on one side and streets on the other, you can see it in progress here (a tutorial may follow):

In the morning we had a little ceremonial unwrapping time – this year we invested in a little portable kitchen that has already become a firm fixture in the roleplaying around the house:

This time the treasures made it in the post in time – here he is exploring the finished playmat with the new matchbox cars AND messing about with the fun garden toys from Grandma and Grandpa at the same time:

Kazuo decided that he wanted an animal themed celebration…and it was down to the wire on cake preferences – giraffe and elephant ran neck and neck for days.  Finally Mama realised that in the absence of the cake decorating tools (where DID they end up in the move??), it would have to be a roundy kinda elephant.  This year we had some dairy/soy allergies amongst our guests, so it was a scrummy vegan chocolate cake with vegetable-fat frosting:

Sneaky Kazuo managed to help himself to cake numerous times throughout the day, and he was still gobbling it down when chatting to his Grandparents with Dada on Skype that evening.

It has been a delightful two years and it was lovely to be able to celebrate this milestone with some new friends…and in as handmade-homey way as possible.  Two weeks on and we are still having happy chats about birthdays, friends and parties.  Having a two year old in the house has led to lots of giggles, hugs and charming conversation.  Thanks to all who helped us to celebrate these two great years!

Saying a Fond Farewell

This leave taking has been going on an awful long time really…and is kinda taking it’s toll,  both Kazuo and I are fighting off our own special little bugs, and we are all fairly tiredy.  But in the interstices, we are still feeling very grateful for all the loveliness (much of it joyously unexpected) of our time here.

The moving men came and took away all this ‘stuff’ and they were amazing.

Though as Akira remarked, the fact that even heavily tattooed men from East St Louis (Illinois) were a little freaked out by our neighbourhood rather confirms our suspicions about the salubriousness of our environment, and I guess it is one aspect of our life here we will not mourn for too long!

I sold the car – our fabulously reliable and trusty Honda – a week earlier than originally hoped, but the relief of the sale carried me through the weekend when I finally bailed out of the overly-ambitious project of trying to have a yard sale in our slightly freaky neighbourhood…

We took a final family outing to MOBOT (though Kaz and I will still go back tomorrow…can’t stay away!) which involved some lovely fake food moments and visit to the equally fake dinosaurs (or ‘dinos’) in the climatron – AND spied an out-of-water crayfish near the waterlily ponds, he was a little on the defensive, poor creature.

Instead of sitting in our ‘yard’ all Sunday morning, we took another family trip to the zoo (yes, I thought last week was our last…) with the lovely Julia.  Kazuo was very happy in the little dugout canoe by the Hippo enclosure.

One of the great triumphs of the weekend was convincing Kazuo that he loved watching Curious George and other video delights on the netbook with his own little noise-limiting baby headphones.  For a wee guy who grabs ANYTHING off his head after less than a few seconds, this was quite an achievement.  This will be especially important in keeping our now busy and restless little guy from begging to be ‘downdowndown’ or to go ‘o’side’ at every opportunity during next week’s trans-Atlantic flights. Whew!

So the week is progressing nicely, the house is pretty clear and empty and we mostly have takers for the few things that are left.  Kazuo and I are doing a few last friendly outings while Akira finishes off at work and on the weekend we move out.

We will be saying the fondest of farewells to our friends and to the lovely landscape of St Louis this coming weekend…hopefully sometime in the next week or so I will be able to report our safe arrival across the pond and thus begins a whole new episode of our lives…

Big Spring

Last weekend we had our first US road trip in over a year.  Somehow time and other scarce resources have just meant we put off exploring more of the countryside until our departure became very imminent.  We were not really in a position to venture much beyond the borders of Missouri, and we wanted company for our trip.  We also needed it to be pretty toddler-friendly so that we could return with most of our sanity intact.  So after some discussions, our dear friends the Finn Barios joined us and suggested that we venture to a cabin in the Ozark National Scenic Riverways at Big Spring.

The cottages were constructed in the depression era and are rustic little stone numbers with wooden interiors.  They are run as a private concession within a very picturesque part of the Mark Twain National Park.  Although the cottage sleeps six, it was a little on the intimate side.  But we juggled the kiddoes around deftly each night and all managed to have a very comfy and pleasant stay.

For me, the best part of the weekend was seeing the little guys potter about in and out of the cottage.  Apartment dwelling doesn’t really allow for the kind of indoor/outdoor lifestyle that was a natural part of my kiwi upbringing.  The wee guy just loves to be outside and he was so happy to have a safe yard to explore.  He wandered about at breakfast munching on waffles and loving the lack of constraints.

Another great highlight was the spring itself.  It is the largest in the USA and puts out an enormous rushing flow of water.  I’ve been to quite a few beautiful peaceful bubbling springs, but this torrent was rather impressive.

The weekend included some lovely walks…

…campfire musings (accompanied by S’mores – our fav campfire treats),  fishing for the dads (the big fish were all a bit wary and elusive though – sadly) and plenty of swimming in the Current River.  This particular spot was just perfect…

Kazuo displayed a new confidence at the riverside.  He was happy to wander in and out of the water.  He spent most of the time digging up rocks, carting them about and tossing them in the river.  Even a slight tumble face first into the river was easily brushed off because a school of tiny fish were at his feet and provided a fantastic distraction.  This more relaxed attitude was well worth the journey.

They are still such wee people, but our boys have always played very nicely alongside one another.  Kazuo is becoming very fond of his small possie of tiny friends in the Lou and his affectionate ‘hongi’ (otherwise known as a ‘nose-to-nose’) is a small indication of how cherished these little people have become.  Here are the wee guys saying goodbye after a happy weekend keeping one another company:

We came home to a sense that summer was over…that our wonderful friendships that have blossomed since we arrived will hopefully stand the test of time, but will be sorely missed very soon…with a nostalgia for a wonderful weekend away…with gratitude for being able to escape so easily to such a gorgeous location…and feeling that our apartment was suddenly very large!  A magical weekend in a magical place that will provide a fitting closure for our Missouri adventure.


I only have one of these.  So my experience cannot be considered representative.  But I am grateful for my sister.  She is kind and thoughtful and an excellent house guest.

We have just had a visit from Aunty Kelly (christened ‘Cakie’ by the wee one) whom I had not seen for over three years. [Hence my relative absence on here recently…] Most of the time she works as a pediatric nurse in Afghanistan.  Right now she is on home leave in New Zealand and was en route to Canada for a few weeks when she dropped in to see us.  Although it was a whirlwind trip, and for half of the time at least one of us was feeling a bit under the weather, it was so lovely to catch up.   She pitched in with our somewhat crazy household (getting up at 5am most days doesn’t make for a socially acceptable routine as we have discovered) and developed an easy rapport with the wee guy, who is still wondering why Cakie doesn’t come out of the bedroom at breakfast time.

We packed in 19 different favourite St Louis locations in a week’s stay.  Just our usual round of parks and playgrounds and fabulous free outings really.  So nice to have so many places to hang out with visitors.

One nice thing about moving to Scotland is that it is a little more on the radar for Aunty Kelly…so hopefully it won’t be too long before we are once again all gathered together in one spot.  In the meantime, I was so grateful for her easygoing company and some time out to share some of our tales from the intervening years.  Travel safe sister.