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…

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.

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!

Summer Visitors

A Scottish summer…

The temperatures have not soared above 20degC very often, in fact they hover around the 15degC mark or below most days.  The Haar has rolled in from the sea on many an afternoon, obliterating any view of the surrounding area from the house.  The growing season is slow and in our experimental first-Fife-foray into gardening, several things have failed rather spectacularly.  The optimistic summer wardrobe of t-shirts and shorts that were necessary for about six months of the year in the Lou have barely made it out of the cupboard.  We have not swum in the sea…or indeed anywhere for that matter.

However, it has been a summer to remember.  We have had some great outings and enjoyed the company of some lovely visitors.  In the midst of busy working weeks, the weekends have been full of adventures and we have been very lucky.  In July Grandma, Grandpa and Kenji came to stay.

In early August we were joined by our friends Nate and Denise who currently live in Toronto.  It was wonderful to spend some time with them and Denise very kindly stuck around whilst the menfolk went to a conference in York…and kept Kazuo and I company – I took a week off, and though things didn’t go exactly to plan, we had a lovely time together. 

We also had a fantastic repeat visit from the delightful Tomandclaire.  We are so glad to be within manageable driving distance from these dear friends.

We discovered the joys of tearing up and down sand dunes with Kaz in tow…

…had long happy afternoons at Allanhill Strawberry farm which involved loads of scaling the strawbales, eating decadent strawberry gateau, some sandpit play and feeding the farmyard animals…

…delightfully messy, sandy, castle-y afternoons on the beach, complete with birds and boules…

…frequented cafes and restaurants and enjoyed the variety and abundance of this coastal food paradise.

Though the cool weather does leave a little to be desired at times, I am not really missing the excessive heat and humidity of the midwest all that much.  Being able to spend time with family and lovely friends outdoors exploring the beaches and rural havens that are a feature of our new locale has given us many happy memories to treasure.

Welcome to A New Year

New Year Happiness everyone!  It seemed that once we hung the decorations on the tree, the holidays simply overwhelmed us.  I am not one for spending too much time online when there is a house full of people…so I have taken a little hiatus.  But here is another wonderful new year full of possibility, so it is time to welcome it in and think about the days ahead whilst still basking in the loveliness of the festive days past.

For the first time, Kazuo really grasped the delights of the holiday season.  Presents…cakes…visitors…reindeer…candles…turkey (not that he would actually eat it…)  The constant refrain was:

He was a little bemused by the bounty under the tree (despite the fact that half of our gifts were still in transit and are still slowly dribbling into the house via various slow-poke courier companies) but days later, he still talks about the tree (which is out to pasture) and the stocking and the presents with Grandpa and Grandma and Uncle Kenji – and of course his favourite things were the smallest, like the electric Thomas the Tank Engine, and the little roll-back bugs from Nana in New Zealand.

After the disruptions of the severe weather we experienced before Christmas, it was lovely to enjoy a festive week with Akira’s family from London.  Kazuo was a little prince who basked in all the attention – this is slowly wearing off right now (and I think the poor tyke is experiencing quite a degree of withdrawal) but it was great to know that he felt safe and relaxed enough to be his usual charming self while they were here.

We had some lovely walks in the snowy fields around Newbridge House and managed to spy deer and hares at very close range.

The rest of the holiday period passed in a relaxed fashion, yet suddenly Akira is back in the department and I am starting to refocus on employment and childcare issues once again.  So there is time yet to feel an easing into the year, but I suppose I shall have some more resolute thinking in the next week or so.

Our next milestone is Kazuo’s second birthday next week.  He is suddenly obsessed with the idea of a party – which involves “friends, a cake with candles, balloons and some presents for you”…so it will be a low-key affair, but it is kinda sweet how much importance this has assumed in his otherwise not-so-social little world.  I am filled with hope that his new-found confidence with welcoming some of his new friends round to the house will help ease the necessary transitions this year.  I am also excited about planning a little celebration of Kazuo, he is daily our delight!

Of course I am always given to resolutions…and this year is no different.  But I am still trying to formulate them…so will share later…I hope that wherever you have seen in 2011, that you are able to see beyond the challenges that this year seems to bring, and look forward in happy anticipation.  Aroha!

It’s beginning to look a lot like…

Our driveway – like many others in these parts –  has turned into an ice rink, and so the treacherous journey to the road is perhaps the worst part of any outing at the moment.  This did slow our efforts to bring Christmas to the house this year…we set out and abandoned the tree-purchasing venture a couple of times in the past weekend.  But Sunday morning, we managed to find a flat-access farm shop with some real trees still for sale.  Amazingly, it bundled neatly into the back of the Honda, and Kazuo poked at the needles all the way home.

It was good that we avoided the tree issue last year when he was just getting walking (Christmas with the O’Connors in London mitigated the need for a tree at home) and this year he was totally excited about the project.  He helped Mama choose places for decorations and was quite interested in the little lights and the sparkly tinsel.

He is not a big fan of anything with a human face right now (dolls are COMPLETELY out).  So having a few little angel decorations in strategic places, combined with his discovery in the car that pine needles “make you go ouch”, has meant he is pretty much in love with the tree, but not that keen to get too close!

After a happy afternoon of decorating, the doctor and I finally got to sit down in the lounge with some proto-mince pies and a cuppa.  It is looking and sounding and smelling a lot like Christmas around here now.  The snow is set to roll in again this coming weekend though…so we hope that we will not be eating turkey alone when the actual day comes…

Holiday Weekend Wanderings

Happy Fourth!  Our last.  For now anyway.  We went to join our friends for a BBQ on the happy day – and a ceremonial reading of THE Declaration ensued.  Beautiful language.  Inspiring document.  Pity it is not as closely adhered to in political reality as it could be…

The stickiness  returned this weekend, and made for a bit of unreasonableness and grumpiness at times,  but we got out and about anyway.  Even though the hard-working one had to go into the Lab on the in-lieu holiday day. Saturday afternoon we braved the soaring temps and repeated our previous summer’s stroll around McKinley Wood in the southwest corner of Forest Park.

We were looking for the  tree-within-the-tree that the Osage Indians held dear, but took a wrong turn at some point.  There was a lot of stopping and examining the ground.

And some happy strolling with Mama and Dada.

Also some watching boats cruise along the waterways of the park.

And some sitting by the stream and having a little refreshment.  Perfect!

The next morning we had this weird  mesolithic-style playground all to ourselves.  It sorta failed the playground test I think – few too many dangers, horrid gravel surface, no shade.  No wonder it was empty.  What possessed them to build such an intensive and inappropriate space?  Pity really, the idea is good…execution pretty poor.  But we had thought it worth a look for our park-obsessed mini-man.

Well, it was in the middle of the lovely Queeny Park where we did the Run (Walk) for Congo Women a couple of years ago.  So we abandoned the play area and went for another walk.

Shady, pretty and easy walking for the wee guy.  An encounter with an exceedingly friendly dog made his day.  And we were happy to just be out and about with him.  Happiness for Holiday Weekends.  Hope you had a pleasant long weekend too!

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!