Finally At Home

It has been a rather lengthy hiatus of painting, re-insulating, packing, unpacking, getting a hundred colds and flus and trying to juggle the minutiae of daily life with the desire to prettify and make homely…but I can finally report that we have made ourselves well and truly At Home.  I mentioned some months back (in another long winded apology for my absence) that we were looking for a house.  After a protracted round-the-houses search, we finally settled on the very first place we looked at, in the charming village that had initally caught our eye.  So now we are slowly settling into village life.

Our Scottish village is a little unusual in that it has all the essentials of an English village.  It boasts a village green, a charming kirk, a couple of pubs, an art gallery, a pottery, an antique shop,  a village shop, a butcher, a post office, a school and – to the little one’s delight – a playground.

One thing that I am particularly glad about is the abundance of footpaths and walking routes.  A year of being somewhat stranded at the house without any way to go walkabout has taken its toll on me and I am itching to get out and about exploring.  But for now, we moved in just as the winter weather crept in and we are gathering gloom on our way to the shortest day, so exploring will have to wait a little longer…

The house was a cottage that has had a little extension done to it.  We were grateful to find a home that had room for everyone, and a garden for the chooks who have settled in happily and seem to be thriving.  The doctor even found a pond in the garden, so we should have some hoppity friends in the summer.  There are still little homely tasks to complete, but we have managed to make ourselves comfy enough to welcome one lot of visitors and now we are cosying up for Christmas.

The little one settled in pretty well, he seems to love racing down the hallway, and pottering about in his new room – ‘working’ at his ‘office’ or building towers or constructing train tracks in the lounge.  I even managed to unpack the sewing machine and cobble together a hasty Bob outfit for his first day at nursery after the move (a little more warning for next year’s Halloween costume would be handy!)

So we are at home for the holidays and hoping that new space and more organisation might just mean I pop in and out of here a little more often.  Finger’s crossed!

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…

Mama Came Back

In younger days, when I contemplated parenthood, I had this idyllic dream of raising my children in community – surrounded by family and friends who loved and helped to nurture them.  My children, I mused, would be confident and relaxed and outgoing…and happy to spend time with any caring adults who came their way.  They would not be tied to my apron strings, they would be set free to flourish in a warm communal setting.  Lofty ideals…and still rather cherished.  But there is no accounting for circumstances.  Life as we are leading it right now has meant that Kazuo has spent rather more of his days with just Mama than I would have ever envisaged.  It is a happy existence, but it makes for a slightly different view of raising a child than I imagined.  It also means he has a few more hurdles to overcome right now as he is getting used to being with people outside the family.

This month I have begun the process of helping Kazuo to settle into nursery school.

He has been a brave little trouper really.  For such a self-contained little person, he is developing a fairly healthy sense of his own situation.  Yesterday was our last official settling session.  It is two weeks since the last as he has not been too well in the intervening period.  As we drove into the school carpark he said ‘No, no nursery school’…and my heart sank a little.

At the previous session,  I left him for 20mins. First I  announced my intention, then I  gave him a hug goodbye, and satisfied myself that he was intent on pottering about in the tiny kitchen and would find some toys to play with.  Then I retired to the reception area and watched him on the CCTV.  Thank goodness for modern technology!  I could see that he was happily engaged for most of the time, and that the nurse in charge was very attentive.  As I returned he had a little meltdown, having just really noticed my absence.  But some cuddles from the nurse, followed by hugs from Mama seemed to do the trick.  Our dialogue for the following week went along the lines of ‘Mama left, Mama came back, cried…’  ‘Who cried’  ‘I did’…this last part was eventually replaced with ‘The babies’ – either a little displacement, or an observation of the slightly more needy nature of several of the much younger babies in his class.  I choose to think the latter…

Yesterday Kaz was a deal more reluctant to let me leave.  But in a firm but Mama-like manner I hugged him, said ‘Just like Dada going to work, I will come back’, waved out the classroom window and retreated for 40mins to the reception and the CCTV. He did remarkably.  The staff ratios were good enough to allow him to have the attention he needed, when he needed it.  So he got hugs during a couple of tearful episodes, and they managed to ascertain that he likes to read Charlie and Lola (since he seems a little obsessed right now this does not surprise me) and got him a special book to read.  Last night  he also told me that he cooked ‘ham and sausages with the lady’ in the teeny kitchen.

The overriding narrative is still ‘Mama came back’…which allows for time to discuss the fact that I will ALWAYS come back…and that the ladies at nursery school are lovely…and that it can be fun playing with the kids.  But a little overwrought episode post-nap later in the afternoon, when he thought I had left him and in fact I had just gone to do a little cleaning in the bathroom, suggests that deep down – or perhaps not so deep – the separation is quite affecting.  Which of course is to be expected, but nonetheless heartbreaking.

I know that he will become a stronger person for these interactions. I am fairly confident that we have found a safe and stimulating and caring environment for him to learn a little independence.  I know that these days it is normative for children to be cared for outside the home and that advocates of daycare focus on potential social and developmental benefits…But for all that, he seems so little to be making this transition.  And I am concerned that maybe he might not really understand it…so I am doing all I can to help him feel safe about it…

The best we can say is that ‘Mama came back’…’cos she will ALWAYS do that.

In The Countryside…

Now that we have been here a few weeks we are finally settling in.  Though it is still a pretty quiet affair in that Kazuo and I spend most of each day here at Newbridge while Akira slogs away at the University, and not too much of our days necessitate human contact with other adults…so we are a little bereft of friends.  But I have to keep reminding myself that it took time in St Louis too…and it is likely to take longer here as our circumstances are less fluid.

Here is a little snapshot of our week in the Autumn countryside, it is particularly idyllic just now, and we are loving the gathering gloom and the sunnier days…

So even though it is quiet…it is all still so new and old and fabulous…so we are keeping occupied and while we are still terribly towny about it all, life is good here in the countryside!

Tasty Treats and Wild White Washing

Since we arrived in the cooler climes of North East Fife, Kazuo and I have spent rather more time indoors than usual.  This is partly climate-related, partly due to having to wait for my driving licence renewal (the tediousness of being mildly epileptic and having to rely on the doctor to say it is OK to drive, when I have been safely driving for over 20 years…)

This has probably resulted in Kazuo being a little less tiredy than he should be, and thus a little more reluctant to fall asleep for naps etc (though he still sleeps long enough when he gets there) and it has also resulted in a little more domestic goddessery on my part (though resources in that domain are still a  little limited).

Yesterday I baked some of these little darlings:

They are a slight variation on Allyson Gofton’s Fudgy Banana Muffins, I used raw sugar and added tiny white chocolate chips…and the pop and I have gobbled them all up in a couple of days, so you will probably see me searching for bigger trousers soon too!

White Choc Banana Muffins (courtesy of Allyson Gofton)

1 1/2 C Flour

1t Baking Powder

1/2t Baking Soda

1/2C Sugar

3/4C Mashed Banana

1T Golden Syrup (yes!  back in the land of golden syrup…)

1t Vanilla Essence

2 Eggs

150g Melted Butter

1/4C White Chocolate Chips (smaller the better!)

Sift dry ingredients.  Beat bananas, syrup, vanilla and eggs together.  Stir into dry ingredients and then fold in cooled melted butter and chocolate chips.

Spoon into paper cases in muffin tray, bake for 15mins (or so) at 220DegC.


Also…I have pretty much been doing a load or three of washing every day since we moved into Newbridge.  This is partly cos we are a grubby lot, and partly cos we have left our huge American washer and dryer set behind and are using a traditional British teeny front loading washer and NO dryer.  I am feeling environmentally virtuous about the dryer, but it does mean that the cloth nappies are a bit more of a challenge (enter obligatory nappy spraying activity…ugh!).

However, I have been without access to an outdoor line for over ten years now…so you may not begin to appreciate just how MUCH this image makes me happy , but it is a marvellous joy to be able to hang laundry out in the wild wind and find it nearly dry at the end of the day.  Shirley Hughes has a lovely poem in her book Out and About that ends… wild white washing waves at the sky/the birds are busy and so am I…and I am so happy to be busy with wild white washing right now!

Settling into a Northern Kingdom

What a transition the past few weeks have been.  We have finally made ourselves at home in the Kingdom of Fife. After more than twenty four hours of taxis, airports and flights, we arrived to a very warm Scottish welcome in the tiny village of Kingsbarns.  Enroute, Kazuo finally made the acquaintance of his great-grandmother in Dublin. He was a tired little boy (and still in his PJ top after sleeping until touch-down on the trans-Atlantic flight) and understandably a little bemused, but he talked about ‘grey-ganma’ for the remainder of the week. The next morning we tried all we could to rouse our little tiredy-pop, but he snoozed on for more than thirteen hours and pretty much reset his little circadian rhythms to within a couple of hours of the local time. After picking up the keys to our new house and spending much of the day in St Andrews getting essential items like mobile phones, we finally made it down to the lovely beach at Kingsbarns in the dying light. Kazuo, who had never seen the sea before, finally got a feel for the beach.  He was not much taken with the sand in his sandals, and could not be persuaded to touch the seaweed – but he was really happy to see the sea. Akira returned on the weekend with grandpa and our dispersed belongings and we set about making ourselves at home in our new house.  We took a blustery morning outing to St Andrews where we showed grandpa the sights and gave Kazuo another shot at the long sands of the West Sands beach. The day before Akira started his new job we ventured south to the charming villages of the East Neuk.  A thick fog covered the land near Anstruther, but Crail was sunny and beautiful… …complete with a rusty but very serviceable playground for the wee tot. We headed back to the Best Fish and Chip Shop in Scotland in Anstruther for lunch – we are still making up for two and a half years without a local chippie! The following weekend gave us a chance to collect our new/old Honda in Dundee and although the weather was rather rainy and variable, a trip to the local farm shop yielded some tasty treats on Sunday, and the afternoon was perfect for another trip to the beach at East Sands.  Kazuo has discovered that wellies are a great innovation and that the waves are loads of fun. While the playgrounds here might not have the variety of well-cared for equipment we had become accustomed to in the Lou, how many in Missouri could boast this ancient and moody backdrop? Kazuo and I stayed at home for most of Akira’s first week at work while I waited for confirmation that my driver’s licence was being renewed.  The long walk down the drive gives Kaz lots of opportunity for diversion – berries, sticks, stones, bugs, mushrooms – and we are enjoying the daily delights of our new rural outlook. This past weekend was cooler and blustery, but we made some happy outings, including Kazuo’s first encounter with ancient monuments at St Andrews’ Cathedral. Well…a long-winded catch-up from me, but it has been an eventful few weeks and although we still have a little fine tuning (like getting me a paid job…) and we are feeling the solitude of being in a remote area where we are yet to make friends…having left a wonderful community behind us…I have a sense that we have ‘come home’ and it is a very happy feeling.

Wardrobe Wednesday

Okay, I am a day late…but I wanted to take this brief wi-fi opportunity to say…WE MADE IT…and yesterday was a lovely if not sorta crazy day. After a load of travelling and some strange sleeping, we are in Fife and our first day was spent collecting the keys to our house, getting me mobile (lookout world, now I am 24/7 online with the help of a wizzy new HTC android phone – eek) and moving our surplus luggage to the new house.  But a priority was to seek out the sea whenever possible.  Of course the ancient beauty of St Andrews itself is quite beguiling, but I was longing for the coast and Kazuo had never seen the sea, so it was quite the event. As predicted, I spent my first Scottish Wardrobe  Wednesday in jeans and hiking boots, but I guess that is gonna be my new wardrobe for now…until employment ensues.

The light was fading, but the top is merino from Max, the scarf a parting gift from Ruthann from Hoi An in Veitnam, the jeans from Gap and the hiking boots will now replace the birkenstocks.Hope you all had a happy and more stylish Wednesday.

This Moment

We go offline for a week or two from this afternoon, so I am posting early.  Happy Friday everyone!

{this moment} – A Friday ritual. A single photo – no words – capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. If you’re inspired to do the same, leave a link to your ‘moment’ in the comments for all to find and see.

Check out SouleMama for the inspiration.

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…

Packing Up and Packing It In

This last weekend was a holiday again.  And for once, Akira took Labor Day off work.  Of course we spent most of our Kazuo-free hours packing up for the shipping day, which is tomorrow (arrrgh…are we ready? it is gonna be a long night I think).  But during our family times, we got out and about as much as possible.

The weekend began on Saturday morning with Kazuo picking up some of the packing boxes and toting them about the apartment.  He is totally fascinated by all the ‘stuff’ that keeps accumulating in the barricaded kitchen.  I’ve tried explaining that some things are going on a ship tomorrow, some things are going with us in the plane and some are staying here and other people will have them.  He seemed to really try hard to work that out, but although he knows the difference between a ship and a plane, I am certain not much of it sank into his inquiring little mind.

We took our usual trip to Tower Grove Market to pick up meat and other fresh produce.  Kazuo avoided the pool/fountain as per usual, but had a lovely play in the playground.  And for once, all his little friends converged on the same spot, which I think was a bit overwhelming for him, but nice for us!

Since the local outdoor pool closed this weekend, we took one last dip with Kaz.  It was a little too cool to stay for long, but was well worth the entry fee to hear Kazuo say ‘nice’ when he waded into the toddler pool.  It has taken all summer…but he is finally somewhat accustomed to being in some water.  I am resolved to maintain his pool experiences over the winter in Scotland if at all possible.

The next morning we headed out for a final family outing to the zoo.  We rode the railway, took in the performing sealions, saw the penguins, puffins, gorillas, birds, giraffes and strolled around in a perfect autumnal St Louis morning.

We began Monday morning in the most beautiful place.  Castlewood Sate Park is only a half hour drive from our house, but for some reason we had never all been there.  Two weekend river excursions in a row really cemented the little guy’s delight in tossing rocks in the water and pottering about in the water.  Then we tossed him in the backpack and hiked up to a beautiful plateau where we had a stunning view of the Meramac Valley.  We descended to river level alongside the old concrete steps that the Edwardians had used for their accessing their mountain top party venues.  It was fascinating to catch glimpses of the steps in the woods and imagine the partygoers in their finery ascending the same hillside.

Our lovely weekend was topped off by a holiday picnic in Forest Park, not far from where we lunched for Mother’s Day.  The Finn Barios joined us and the boys and Harvey doggie had a fabulous time pootling about in the dusky light alongside the little creek.

So many happy hours to reflect on later…now we are finishing the final flourishes on our gathering of ‘stuff’ and hoping that the rest of the move goes like clockwork.  Hope to catch you soon, but the PC is going on the ship tomorrow, so it will be all little stubby fingers on the netbook, and looking out for Wifi access over the next few weeks…Haere Ra for now!