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…

We’re Have I Been All This Time…

Longest break I’ve taken in a while…somehow, at the end of a week at the keyboard, it is kinda hard to make time to pop in here.  Silly me.

Weekends have taken on a new measure of quality family life now that our time all together is really limited to breakfast and dinner/bath/stories/bed.  We ALL look forward to those weekends.  Since I last checked in we have had a few adventures.

April was our Scottish Summer this year I think.  So one weekend we took advantage of the delightful weather and strolled along the Fife Coastal Path

with our new friends Tomandsuzie (not to be confused with Tomandclaire) and our wee tots to the Cocoa Tree in Pittenweem.

Then we made some essential modifications to the chicken coop so that the girls could get up and go to bed without our help (esp helpful now that it is light around 4.30am and dark at 10.45pm)…and so that a helpful undergrad could come in and feed them whilst we made our first UK road trip to visit Tomandclaire in Manchester.  During this balmy weekend we managed an outing to the local RSPB reserve…

…and HeatonPark which had the added bonus of a tiny farm and a playground.

The following weekend was the Royal Wedding – and though none of us are particularly royalist in persuasion…there is something kinda lovely about a wedding…so I managed to make a cuppa and turn on the TV for some of the proceedings – though I did have a lot of interference from the easily distractable male members of the family.  We followed up the festivity with our first BBQ of the season – though the weather was not so great then, and has not really picked up since.  Sigh…

Later on we even managed a spot of garden planting.  As per usual, the little herbies are doing great.  But after an unseasonably warm April, May has been so cold that not much else has survived the transfer to the cold little garden patch .  Apart from the fabulous radishes we harvested this week.

The big news of the month was QPR (the Doctor’s football love) were promoted to the Premier League.  Whilst sport is still really something I do not understand…this was an event worth celebrating – with chocolate cake and bubbles!

And the other big news was the big-boy bed.  We took the sides off the cot…and Kaz has pretty much settled into a rhythm of sleeping in his own little space.  We have to lie down by him now to get to sleep…but that usually happens pretty quickly.  He has fallen out several times, and one night I stepped on him in the dark (oops) and another night he fell over all his toys trying to get out the door in the dark…but slowly we have made adaptations and sleep IS happening.  Now onto potty training…

Our final news is the galvanising into action on the house-hunting front.  We have been out most weekends looking for a permanent home.  A frightening and enlightening process.  We think we have narrowed down the area we would like to live in…and this charming village has caught our eye…

…Kaz has so far loved going to see houses, esp when we come across a playground en route

…but it will probably take us most of the summer to find something we are sure about…so no move imminent yet!

So…a big update.  Sorry it was so long…and I was absent for so long…hope to mitigate that in future.  It all got a bit hectic there for a while.  Happiness to you and thanks to those of you who kept popping in to see how we are doing.  I will try to be back here more often in future!

Why We Need to Stop Adding Plastic to our Environment…

I just found a link to this heart-stopping series of images (one preview here) from The Catskill Kiwi and had to say that I was thankful to live somewhere where we do make some effort towards recycling… BUT that it is plainly not enough if we clutter up these amazing baby birds in such a ghastly way.  Thankful too for the existence of such incredible birds (we saw one nesting at the colony in New Zealand while on our honeymoon)… and worried that we might be responsible for their demise.

Albatross Chick

Dealing with the Heat

We have been extraordinarily lucky so far this summer.  St Louis is notorious for the sticky high humidity of its long hot summers and last year I toughed out the morning sickness in the air con of our apartment and harboured nostalgia for the calm sunny days of my Nelson adolescence.  Thus far, it has been a Nelson-y kind of summer and I have managed to get out for some lovely long walks daily with Kazuo and not feel too messy on my return.

But now it is August – and it is fire-y hot and so so humid.  Ugh.  Weekends have been hard work recently, so we decided a few weeks back that in order to make for peace and harmony all round, we should plan some fun things to do.  Like long walks in the many parks around… and picnics… and trips to the pool…  I had made quite the list and we have had some lovely times making inroads on the list.  Yesterday morning we decided to walk in Forest Park, since it some time since we all did that.  We set off around 9.30am, and by then it was already blistering outside.  Sigh.

The walk was lovely.  We walked through the woods in northwest corner of the park and saw our first hummingbird of the season!  (Would like to say this was it… but we were not that quick and our camera not that flash… but you get the idea)  We are very excited about the hummingbirds of MO as we don’t get them anywhere else we have lived.  Akira spotted it first (as per usual, how does he have such eagle eyes?) and wondered what the enormous bee was doing… they are so tiny and perfectly formed.   Would really love to have the patience to put a feeder outside our place and see if any come, but they take a lot more maintenance than the regular feeder.  Speaking of which, we had a little hiatus when we were eaten out of house and home by the gobbly finches, but now have an enormous bag of feed and they are starting to find us again, had a cardinal couple here yesterday, just hoping the gold and house finches come back soon!


At the end of our walk we circled back to the top of Art Hill, towards the massive silver tree in the Art Museum grounds.  I have such vivid memories of coming across it in the brilliance of a post-blizzard day the week we came over for Akira’s interview in 2007 and I love that there are so many great free art works like this in St Louis (including the Art Museum!).

Forest Park

The heat is still killing us though… the rest of the day involved helping Kazuo to deal with heat rash that ensued from the walk and playing the fan on him to cool him down in his little helmet.  Here he is taking a helmet break.  Poor little lad… though his head has stopped being as sweaty as it was at first, but can’t say I would like to be in a plastic helmet in 40degC!  He is a trouper.  Hope it cools down again soon…  Can’t wait for October!

Helmet Break

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

Bird Day

So, it is OK not to be working on a weekend. And with a firm date (Jan 16) now for the arrival of our new family member, we decided to make the most of this weekend and do things we might not get to do for some weeks. And one of those things was to seek out some Bald Eagles.

As foreigners, we were keen to catch a glimpse of the once-endangered and noble national bird. As occasional birdwatchers, we were hoping for a chance to see these creatures in their natural habitat. It was heartening to discover that they are flourishing at this time of year not far from where we live. They migrate south down the Mississippi fly-corridor to mate and breed in the spring and right now they can be found fishing and roosting just across the river from us.

So we set off at the crack of dawn (or so it felt) and drove to a Lock and Dam system on the Mississippi where the birds were clearly fishing amongst the gulls where the churning lock was stirring up the fish. It was impressive to watch them soaring above the trees, and through my tiny binoculars, I did manage to see one bird dive down and pick up a fish. But we didn’t really get any clear or up-close views of the birds. One happy surprise for me was a flock of pelicans that flew over us a few times at the locks – I had never seen one live, and so to see a couple of dozen flying low above was a real treat.

We made a little trek a few miles further north to a ferry crossing. By this time in the morning, most of the eagles had done their foraging for the day, and had returned to the trees to roost. En route I spied an enormous nest on the roadside, and two of the grand birds roosting nearby. When we arrived at the ferry crossing, there were another couple of eagles sitting high in the trees. They were so close and so calm, it was a real reward for an early morning start. I loved how alert and regal they looked and I am so glad that conservation efforts have made it possible for them to make such an amazing comeback.

When we lived in the UK, we were lucky enough to live in a beautiful park where the birdlife was fantastically varied. We set up a bird feeder outside the house and were visited daily by an increasing number of small-medium sized birds, including nuthatches, tits of all kinds (I think they are referred to as chickadees here) and even some very entertaining greater spotted woodpeckers. Currently we are living in a very urban setting in a University owned apartment. But I got a bird feeder for Christmas, and today we managed to rig it up outside our sunroom – so now I am hoping that some of the friendly little neighbourhood birds will come and get some sustenance outside our place soon. Something else to focus on when I am not working…