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.

Op Shops, Passports, Helmets and Art…

Last Monday I made a much-overdue foray to the local charity shops.  In New Zealand, we call these Op Shops (‘op’ being short for opportunity… not sure why) and they have been a favourite haunt since my teens – at the age when having a whole new wardrobe every week just meant going to the nearby Sally Army with a shopping bag and coming home with Op Shop gold.  Well, St Louis is a veritable mine of charity shopping.  And the local Goodwill is like a superstore.  When we moved in May, I began the repainting (still a work in progress) of our little eat-in-kitchen table and have been on a hunt for black chairs to match.  I found these beautiful numbers just hanging out at the Goodwill:

Kitchen Chairs

They have such a sturdy feel to them, and the covers are in wonderful condition.  Our dining room chairs are much less robust, they don’t make things like they used to – I was enjoying the musings of  No Impact Man on this very issue the other day.  Obviously we would do so much better in environmental terms if only things had a more permanent feeling…  I do hate acquiring things I don’t think I will use for a long time, or that have a feeling of flimsy impermanence about them – children’s toys are a dreadful example of this.  And computers… well, don’t get me started on built-in-obsolesence!

Another recent acquisition in our house is Kazuo’s US passport.  At least one of us can move in and out of this country with relative ease!  Our re-entry visas expired in March, so on our trip home to London this Christmas, we will have to go stand in line at the US Embassy again and apply for new visas to return to our home and work… such a strange system, it seemed odd to us that we were not given paper work for the entire time of our proposed stay, but when our immigration papers were updated in March, we realised that we would have to return to the UK for new Visas in case Akira wanted to travel to conferences abroad during the rest of our time here (which of course he does.) Our little guy will have about six different nationalities to choose from when it comes time for him to decide the country of his first allegiance… for now we chose his birthplace to make travel more expedient.  The passport arrived a few days ago and Kazuo immediately started devouring it when I gave it to him to hold:     Passport

Last week we finally made a visit to the Plastic Surgery Dept at St Louis Children’s Hospital.  Kazuo has Congenital Muscular Torticollis, a condition that was most likely caused by his cramped breech conditions prior to his birth.  He has been having regular physical therapy and home stretching since he was three months old and should make reasonable, if not full recovery from this condition.  However, it has also caused Positional Plagiocephaly, or a flat spot on the right side of his head that has also pushed his face forward on the right and his little ears are unaligned.  It is a reasonably common condition, and often self-corrects within the first year.  But lately it has seemed that maybe Kazuo’s flat spot is making slow progress, and that a better outcome for the Torticollis might be achieved if we remedied the Plagiocephaly.  This is what the medical professionals were  implying, and the Nurse we saw last week wrote a prescription for Kazuo to be fitted for a Plagiocephaly Helmet . He will wear it for 23 hours a day for about 3 – 6 months, depending on how fast his head grows. A timely parcel arrived from my aunt and uncle in New Zealand on the day of the appointment – including an All Blacks Jersey and Hirini Helmet (as we have christened him) – an All Black bear, complete with protective helmet. We hope Kazuo will feel a special bond with Hirini as the helmet days are played out…


It appears that our marvellous Healthcare Company, unlike all others, has become obscure and evasive about their criteria for these helmets – on the phone, before the appointment, they assured us it would be covered.  Since then it has transpired that they only cover a random handful of cases, and mange to sidestep the others by claiming that they are not ‘medically necessary’. We have found this totally infuriating as we would not be going down this route if it had not been demonstrated to us to be medically necessary in the first place… it is a hard place to be in when faced with a treatment that seems invasive and unpleasant (although we have been assured that the babies make a much quicker adjustment to wearing the helments than the parents) and then realise that you are forced to endure financial hardship in order to pursue the treatment.  We have railed against the negative impact of private healthcare since coming here… this is just one more bad example.  Both of us have delayed pursuing medical treatment for ourselves for more minor complaints that we would still rather have cleared up, due to the added expense we would incur.  However, we reasoned that this is a treatment Kazuo would have had in England, and we would hate for him to encounter difficulties later in life because we did not treat these problems now, when he is growing and most likely to recover well.  But I can really see how many people would be deterred from having certain procedures because of the cost involved.  It just doesn’t seem right… we miss the NHS!

Finally, with Kazuo taking lovely long naps in the daytime, and starting to sleep through the night, I have more time to be a little organised about my days.  This also has lead to thoughts of creativity.  Last year I spent most Sunday evenings with friends at a ‘Stitch n Bitch’ craft group.  We produced a great variety of lovely things and it was wonderful to be among others who were thinking creatively.  There is a move afoot now to resurrect the craft group into ‘Crafternoons’ – kindly, so that it fits in around my need to be at home with Kazuo in the evenings.  I am really excited.  To celebrate, this last weekend I finally created the mixed-media painting for our living room that I have been carrying around in my head since we stayed in Hanmer Springs in New Zealand on our post-wedding-holiday in 2006.  There was a similar work on the wall in one of the houses we rented.  However, I was also keen, since I was using Paua Shell as the main colour inspiriation, to make a representation of the myth of Rangi-nui-te-po and Papatuanuku.  Since it was a good 20 years since high school art classes, I was really hoping that it would come out a little bit like the image in my mind… usually creating art is a matter of post-hoc rationalisation for me.  Thankfully it was pretty much as I had intended, and I feel inspired to move on and try out some more ideas I have brewing, so yayyy for Crafternoons!! One of my resolutions for this year was to see if I could come up with an idea for stay-at-home-mum income generation… watch this space.

Rangi and Papa

Rangi and Papa in the living room with Kazuo and me.