Summer Holidays

This summer has been rather amazingly gorgeous in Scotland. Following a delayed and very cold spring , the uncharacteristically sunny days were a welcome treat. After last year’s gloomy wet non-summer, we felt that the only thing that would make our Scottish existence tenable in future would be to escape somewhere sunny for a week or two every summer. So we began planning a trip to Portugal…Then, when it transpired that I would be 8 months pregnant when we were finally free to make our getaway, we revised the plan so that we could have a fortnight on the ‘English Riviera’ of Devon & Cornwall.

By the time our trip rolled around, though we were longing for the break, we no longer felt the need to top up on sunshine and I was not entirely keen on 10+hours of driving to get to our destination.

However, it was our last family of three outing before the baby arrived, we had booked accommodation and we had plans – so off we went to the southern seaside.

We broke our journey with some time in Manchester with Tomandclaireandgrace, which was a perfect bookend to our longest ever time away just the three of us.

Highlights of our time in the south include:

  • Making sand castles on the beach at Dawlish Warren (whilst the doctor roamed out onto the estuary with his bins to spot more birds for the annual tally)

Dawlish sand sculpting

  • A day of blissful birding at the remote (and faintly terrifying to get to/from) Prawle Point

Prawle Point

  • Lunch at the River Cottage Cafe in Plymouth

River Cottage Plymouth

  • Our seventh wedding anniversary, spent on the Bodmin & Wenford Steam Railway, strolling the grounds of Pencarrow House and enjoying a celebratory meal at Rick Stein’s St Petroc’s Bistro in Padstow

Wedding anniversary outing

  • An exhausting but completely entertaining day at The Eden Project

Eden Project

  • A beguiling day spent in the inspiring Lost Gardens of Heligan

Lost Gardens of Heligan

There were many more things to do and see in the area, but being so slow, tiredy and encumbered – and having a four year old to consider as well, meant we didn’t perhaps cover as much ground as we may have done in the past. On reflection, esp after getting stuck in terrible traffic on the first leg of our return journey, it WAS a long way to go. One of the nicest things about coming home was the realisation that we actually LOVE how peaceful it is in our corner of Scotland (Cornwall in particular seemed rather unpleasantly crowded) and feel genuinely lucky to have such beauty and so many wonderful activities/places to eat well in our locale. Since we are in settling down mode, this still strikes me as the best feeling to have brought back from what was still a rather lovely holiday experience.

There’s no place like home…

Lake Sojourn

At last our longed for Autumn holiday in the Lake District was upon us.  I took a couple of days off work beforehand to let the little one have some at-home time as well as he seems to be more of a home body every day – and it seems hard on him to have five long days away from home each week.  We set off onthe Friday for three nights in a delightful cottage in Newlands Valley.  Our lovely friends Tomandclaireandgrace (their name has extended a little since last summer) met us there and we all had a lovely relaxing weekend in each other’s company.

Moody mountain moments

We had a magical walk in the woods at Whinlatter Forest.

Osprey land

Complete with a wise man of the woods…

Wise old man of the forest

…some forestcraft shelters…

Wilderness skills

…woodland luminosity…

Magical moments in the forest

…magical doors in the trees…

Hidden treasures in the trees

…places for balancing…

Playground

…and jumping.

Exploring the little houses

At Trotters World of Animals we got up close with some wonderful birds of prey…

Birds of prey demo

… and made friends with a macaw who was very chatty.

Hello Mr Macaw

On Derwentwater we met some geese…

Greylag geese on the shores of Derwent Water

…climbed some very big rocks…

Rock scrambling

…and thought a little of the romantics.

Wordsworthian moment on Derwent Water

‘Be thankful, thou; for, if unholy deeds
Ravage the world, tranquillity is here!’

William Wordsworth.

Olympic Odyssey

Like most of the country, we eagerly anticipated the advent of the London 2012 Olympics.  We managed to secure a few tickets for the odd event, and took an unprecedented ten days off work and other responsibilities to make our own Olympic Odyssey journey south…It was a bit of a whirlwind…and the dust is only just beginning to clear in this post-Olympic haze that is settling over the nation…but here are a few highlights of our trip to London.

Our first event was football – Spain v Japan – at Hampden Park in Glasgow. The wee guy thought it a bit of a lark at first, but when we realised that the concessions didn’t take card and we only had £7 between us for 6 hours of spectator activity, it became a bit of a challenge.  He managed brilliantly, and we were all a bit starstruck being in an actual live Olympic venue for the first time:

Next up was the cycling road race in Richmond Park, which we watched with our lovely friends the Ryan-Pryors who live nearby and hosted us for lunch and a stroll in the park to take in the peleton wizzing past. 

Our final family ticketed event was the Volleyball at Earl’s Court.  The players were fiesty and the spectators even more so.  Somehow the stands were packed to capacity with Polish fans for the Poland v Lithuania match and they made for an electrifying atmosphere.

By this point the wee guy was pretty spectatored out and so we were intensely grateful for the diversions of the iPad.

And when things got just too much altogether, he and I ventured out for a spot of retail therapy, burning off steam and doing a little crazy posing with the Great Britain Hand.

But the real Olympic excitement for Kazuo came on the morning that Dada was off watching Weightlifting with the grandies at Excel.  He and met up with my friend Karen and her lovely girl Kit for a playdate at Coram’s Fields and then headed to Kiwi House for lunch in the BBQ zone.  We plonked ourselves and the tots down next to this fellow – who had just won yet another medal in the Equestrian arena.  Kaz eyed his medal up for a while and Mr Todd invited him over for a little chat – it was a delightful exchange, especially since K was quite forthcoming about his own medal that he had gained at Legoland that week.

It was an eventful week or so and with the paralympics making an appearance at the end of the month, we are glad to have such a wealth of wonderful sporting endeavour to inspire us.

London Town

Earlier this month, we ventured south to visit the grandparents and take in some of the sights and sounds of London.  This was our first trip the the capital since returning to the UK in 2010, and the first time Kaz would remember his adventures.  Not unsurprisingly, it was so much easier to spend time in London with a three year old than a one year old, and we had a fab outing.  

Most of our visit was spent in the Museum quarter – in fact we could have stayed there 24/7 and K would have been a very happy boy!

Dinosaurs, rockets, spacemen, machines, volcanoes – the stuff of little boy’s dreamworlds.

We are heading back there in the summer for the Olympics and Kaz is very much looking forward to this trip.  Hopefully we will have more to report and many more outdoor images from our next foray south.

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.

Holiday Highlights

When I last posted here, I had no idea how much of a toll the month ahead was going to take on me – both physically and emotionally.  We have had a lovely holiday, and I hope you have too – but there have been some definite challenges.  I had anticipated a few dramas as I prepared for the impact of travelling trans-Atlantic with our little man. But I was also expecting some lovely interludes, and I feel lucky that although some aspects of the time away were exhausting, we have some charming memories of time well spent with family and friends.

We did have the obvious issues related to settling an infant who has jet lag to sleeping in a strange house, adapting our baby-centered lifestyle to fit in as much as we could with the household round at my husband’s parents’ home (and helping them to adapt to our sometimes fixed Kazuo-needs), getting enough sleep (ALWAYS an issue… NEVER enough), seeing all the friends and family we possibly could in such a short time – while fitting in around Kazuo’s naps, getting out an about in London in the cold weather… the list is long and dull… and on reflection, I would hesitate to do the same trip again with an infant, but it was worth it.

The first hoped-for delight was arriving to a London covered in snow just in time for Christmas.  We managed to avoid any weather-related travel delays on our outward journey, which was overnight – so Kazuo slept almost the entire trip.  Wonderful!  So after the first morning nap at Grandma and Grandpa’s, we ventured out to the nearby park for a walk in the snow.  I have never seen Kazuo so cheery – he was giggling the whole walk. We had been cooped up in below-zero temps in St Louis for weeks, so it was fabulous to get outside.

Here he is eyeing up the classic old Royal Mail postbox on the street corner.

Christmas came around very quickly – too quickly for me this year.  The whole effort of organising to travel and then adapting to being in a new place with Kazuo just took away my capacity to do anything festive that I would usually do, it was all I could manage to send off a few presents to immediate family and cobble together things we needed to take with us.  So I am newly resolved to establish an Eason-O’Connor rhythm to the holidays next year since we will probably be Christmassing at our own place… time to plan for that later…  As anticipated, although he was delighted and engaged by the lovely gifts he received for Christmas, Kazuo did spend a happy little period getting some joy out of the wrapping paper too.

After Christmas we began in earnest trying to catch up with our friends dispersed across the UK.

Much-anticipated on my list of afternoons out was meeting up with my friend Natasha and her family.  Their little boy arrived about 6 weeks before Kazuo and so it was wonderful to meet him, and for Kaz to have some time playing with a little man closer to his own age.   We had a lovely lunch, walk along the Thames and then finished off the afternoon with the most perfect flat white coffee made by a barrista in Putney who had learned the tricks of the trade in Aotearoa.  You can see how happy this made me by the big grin on my face!

In between Christmas and New Year we managed to meet up with someone every day.  Our next foray was to the North for New Year.  We stayed with the wonderful Chris and Celine in their stylish and charming Victorian terrace in Shipley.  They have two little boys and made us feel very much at home.  Graciously (and impressively) they invited a number of our other northern friends to a house party for New Year and it was perhaps the most convivial way I have ever welcomed in a new year (complete with front yard fireworks – yayy for the boys!)  Clumsily, I fell down a few stairs in the middle of our first night there and managed to gain the biggest bruise I have ever had – but it did nothing to dampen my enthusiasm for being amongst good friends.  We ventured out into their local community to gather party supplies (a trip that made me long for a local butcher – can vegetarians have such longings?) on New Year’s Eve and returned via the magnificent Salts Mill in Saltaire.  I love the architecture of this part of Yorkshire and it is always a delight to return to the area.

Perhaps the most significant part of the trip was spending time with Kazuo and his London family.  It made me wish even harder that we were not so far away from everyone as he seemed to relax visibly with ‘his people’.  Here we are reading with his Uncle Kenji – true happiness for Kazuo, reading a book and hanging out with Uncle Kenji who was fun and warm and always made Kaz smile.  They got on famously.

He took instantly to Grandma and Grandpa, which was such a relief as we had to leave him with Grandma three days into the trip so that we could attend our Visa renewal interview at the US Embassy.  That was a highly successful venture in every way imaginable, and so we took advantage of Kazuo’s ease with his relatives and went on several more day outings while we were there.  One memorable afternoon was spent at The Coal Hole on the Strand – the quintessential Victorian London pub – with some good friends from Brighton and the US.

We also ventured underground (as we always do) to Gordon’s Wine Bar and sampled some Rioja in the murky depths of the cellars of London, with the Embankment tube trains rattling away beside/beneath us.  A completely atmospheric experience that everyone should have at some time when they are in London – no trip would be complete without it for us!

Finally our holiday was over, and we packed our bags – feeling a happy sense of anticipation for arriving home and embarking on the year ahead, but also some trepidation about the weather and the travel.  We slept little the night before as airports were closing all over Britain and we were unsure whether we would get to depart – and snow was falling in the US, so maybe we would get delayed in Chicago, perhaps a worse fate.  Amazingly, it all went incredibly well again.  We got out of London just before the worst weather set in.  We were delayed somewhat by increased security measures, but were instantly booked onto the next flight to St Louis once we arrived to Chicago (I am newly impressed with American Airlines…even though we did have a little hiatus with them over Kazuo’s ticket on our departure day).  We arrived home to be collected by our dear friends Jon and Julia who had left us fabulous lentil lasagne to ease us back into home life.  And then it snowed!  Beautiful.  

That was a week ago… it is only just melting today.  I have been inside all but about two hours of that time as we have all been struck down with a gastric flu – Kazuo was first to get ill the day after we got home, and is still coming right, poor little man, I have been rather worried about him.  Not a happy ending to our holiday, nor a particularly lovely start to the year – I do feel like so far 2010 has passed me by.  And we have postponed plans to celebrate his first birthday this weekend (!) until we are all back to rights again.  But this too shall pass… and indeed, today I finally feel like I can gather all the strings together and start to think about what this year may hold.

I hope your holiday was filled with joyful moments… and that this year ahead will be filled with bright patches too.  Aroha.

London Bound

I have had a week off.  Whew!  Largely due to Kazuo coming down with his first big nasty cold, so I’ve had a clingy little guy who isn’t sleeping much (breathing badly and teething at the same time – poor blighter!).  But we have had some lovely days at home just practising all the new moving about things that came into play as my NaBloPoMo month came to an end.  The overkill of that month in blogging terms was enough to engender a need to have a good blogging break too!  Here we are at home last Friday just keeping warm and playing with the toys.

It has suddenly become intensely cold around here and last night it finally snowed – though only as we were going to bed, and by the time we got up it had all dissipated.  I do love a good snow fall, as it is still such a novelty, since I come from a predominantly coast-dwelling country where it snowed where I lived exactly three times in the first 30 years of my life.  It snowed here in STL the day Kazuo was born.  I stood at the hospital window with him that evening watching the snow drift down magically on the city and promised him many lovely snow days in the future.

But… we are heading to Akira’s family in London next week for Christmas and New Year. I am rather dreading the prospect of a trans-Atlantic flight with our little monkey.  So the last thing we really need here next week is a big snow fall… the last time we travelled at this time of year (in 2007) our trip was badly disrupted by weather, and I know that kind of delay with Kazuo would be so much more unbearable… so here’s hoping the snow holds off just a while longer!

I am furiously writing lists and doing last minute preparations for our trip – making presents, collecting up travel supplies and hoping I have everything on hand to make the trip as streamlined as can be with an 11mth old boy. So I may be absent a bit from here until we are settled.  On the bright side, it WILL be marvellous to see friends and to be with family for Kazuo’s first Christmas.  We are spending New Year in Leeds with friends who have two little boys and that too will be a delight.  And who knows… maybe there will be a white Christmas in London… now that would be LOVELY!

Madsen Cycles

The crazy people at Madsen Cycles are giving away one of their AMAZING bikes each week!!  I dream of getting back on the bike with Kaz, and imagine putting him and the groceries in the basket… sigh… Anyway, do click on the link at the right of this post and send some traffic their way courtesy of me… and who knows, in some weird universe (unlike the one I am currently in, where I NEVER win anything…) I may win the bike of my dreams.  Hehe.

Weekend of Wonderfulness

So this past weekend we went on a holiday to the Ozarks with some of our lovely St Louis friends.  We stayed at a Camphill Community home in the countryside – an oasis of calm with baby chicks, hens that roost in trees, lots of perfectly mown pathways through the fields and a spacious and cool farmhouse that had been graciously given over to us all to enjoy.  We felt very spoiled!

Late last week we gained a shade tent for Kazuo to play in when we are out in the hot Missouri sun, so we were looking forward to using it by the riverside on the weekend.  Sadly, by the time we got to the river, it was really too late for him to sustain much outdoors time, and the river was crowded… not such a great idea for little Kaz… but here he is playing happily in it at home, I am sure we will be getting lots of poolside action with it really soon!

Kaz in the Shade TentThis weekend was Kazuo’s first road trip.  He was remarkable.  We managed to drive over his big lunchtime nap (it was a five hour journey) and take a lunch break then he played happily with Mama in the back seat until his late afternon kip.  He coped really well with the motorway services, here he is looking rather supercilious at the Rolla Steak and Shake:

Kaz at Steak and ShakeStupidly, I was enjoying the relaxing lifestyle so much, I forgot to get out the camera again, but I did steal a couple of pics our friend Katie posted on Facebook.  (Thanks Katie!)

The best part of the weekend for us was just being outdoors in the countryside.  The birdlife was amazing (at one point there was a Cardinal, Indigo Bunting and American Goldfinch all on the feeder outside the living room… so vivid, so primary!) and we saw some really lovely butterflies in the fields.  There were also some startling little dragonflies at this pond:

By The Pond at Oakhill

When everyone had returned from the river and had naps on Saturday, we ventured into the nearby town of West Plains for the Ozark Old Time Music festival.  Katie tried her hand at hatchet throwing, we wandered through the market stalls and then heard some engaging fiddling.

Old Time Music

We watched some country dancing, and then headed home as the heat was really overwhelming Kazuo.  It has been rather intense since last week, and this week the weather forecast site has scary little burning thermometers to indicate that the temps are likely to rise above 100degF on most days this week.  Ugh!  Note to self, when you go away in the summer… do NOT turn off the aircon… it was unbearable here last night, and poor Kaz is still tired and miserable because of the heat.  It seems to finally be getting back to normal, over 12hrs since we returned – horrible!

On Saturday night we had been offered a bonfire that was stacked on the field beside the house.  So Akira and the lads went out to light it (it was hot enough that night… but really, there is something magical about a big fire).  This was his first bonfire lighting experience, and it was extremely successful… a tribute to the bonfire stackers too I think!  So we had a lovely blaze, some wonderful entertainment from our talented musical friends, and our most favourite American campfire tradition… S’mores – mmmmm perfect!

Akira Lighting Bonfire