Sunday, 29 September 2013

The Sea is Deep and the World is Wide.

I feel extremely lucky to live the life I have lived so far.  As a child I travelled with my parents as we followed my Father's job around the world.  I was supposed to be born in Nigeria, but the gynaecologist fell ill and my Mother caught the next flight out of there at 8+ months pregnant.  I was flown back at 3 weeks old.  From Nigeria we moved to Turks and Caicos, and then on to Thailand.  When I was 7, we returned to the UK for several years and, when my parents moved onto Malawi when I was 10, I was installed in boarding school in West Sussex.  I still got to go out to wherever my parents were in the holidays and, after 6 months in Malawi, they moved on to Barbados and then Thailand, finally returning to the UK when I was in my final year at university.

It's hard to say how this travelling affected me.  Initially I was adamant that I would never leave the UK again, except to go on holiday.  I wanted to stop somewhere and put down proper roots.  It's certainly affected my siblings in different ways.  My older sister is very happy to stay put in one place now, roots dug deep.  My older brother enjoys travel, but has said that he is happy to live where he is now, surrounded by his friends.  My younger brother is entirely different, and has already taken himself off once to live in Bangkok with his girlfriend (now his wife), and I think is planning more adventures.  I am probably somewhere in the middle.  Had I not married The Husband, with his job that takes us off around the world, perhaps I would have been comfortable to stay in the UK for ever.  However, within a year of being married, we were off on our first posting to Milan in Italy.  We stayed there for 2 years before moving on to Mumbai, India, for 3 years.  Whilst we were in these places, we did our best to explore the country we lived in, as well as those made more accessible by their closeness.  Had we not been living in Mumbai and my father in Kathmandu, it's highly unlikely I would ever have got round to visiting Nepal, especially not with a 10 month old in tow.

My tiny snails setting sail on a ferry in Sydney!
At the end of our Indian posting, we went back to the UK and I was content to be home, playing house in our new cottage, making friends, putting down roots.  It was quite a while before I began to miss the travel, but then various postings began to be dangled in front of us.  For various reasons, each came to nothing, but they increased a general feeling of itchy feet for the pair of us.  Eventually, after 3 years in deepest, darkest, rural Berkshire, a posting came through and we moved to Australia and here we have set up camp for the next few years.

The move was emotionally harder than I had anticipated - I miss my friends and family in the UK, and I miss being close enough to be able to help them when they are going through difficult times.  However, we have just come back from our first holiday here and I have so much enjoyed being able to explore a new place.  We drove to Sydney from Brisbane, stopping at Port Macquarie on the way down and Coff's Habour on the way back up.  I have been able, freed from the tyranny of the school run for a week, to appreciate the opportunity that we have here, and that I have been lucky enough to have had all my life, to explore more of the world than many people get the chance to.  As the tiny snail said in the Snail and The Whale, "The sea is deep and the world is wide" and we are going to take our chance to sail it whilst we can.

Monday, 2 September 2013

Settling in...

We've been here for almost 3 months now, so I thought I'd do an update as to how we are settling in.

Our stuff arrived from the UK without any problems and it has been lovely to have the house kitted out with our own furniture.  I love the house, although after a solid Victorian Cottage with walls a foot thick, it does seem rather flimsy!  The noise carries and there is no way of getting a lie in when all the main rooms are on the same floor.  My favourite space has got to be downstairs in the enormous playroom - the kids can make as much mess as they like and it doesn't bother me at all because at the end of the day, I just migrate back upstairs to my lovely sitting room (that said, I've just walked downstairs to find ALL the puzzles out of their boxes and am not feeling quite so zen about it right now).
Australia Zoo.

The kids have settled really well into their new school, and The Feral One has been offered a Kindy place there from January.  They seem to be generally happy and making friends.  The Feral One and The Naughty Baby are still at home with me 24/7 and seem to be coping with that (they are so easy going those two!).  We go along to the gym 3 times a week and they seem to enjoy the creche there too - even if they do keep bringing back D&V bugs.

As postings go, it's a pretty cushy one and I certainly can't complain of any hardship here.  The cost of living is high, but we're on an expat package which takes that into account.  I can get most things here that I need and it's an easy place to live.  The worst bit about being here is that we are so very far away from our friends and family and I've been going through a stage of missing everyone quite badly.  I'm also missing my animals.  Sometimes it seems like the fun bits of my life - the horses and the dogs - have been sliced out and have been replaced by boring stuff instead - cleaning, gym and an extra long school run.  I'm told that I ought to regard the gym as "me" time (because I am child free), but I'd much rather be walking my dogs through the woods or across the common than trudging on a treadmill. Anyway.

We've been planning our sightseeing for the next few years.  We have a trip to Sydney booked in September and flights to NZ (North Island) booked in January.  We'd also like to go skiing in NZ at some point, go to Vanuatu/Fiji, see the Red Interior, drive the Great Ocean Drive and take a trip to Tazzy.  All whilst also exploring the Gold and Sunshine coasts.

I do keep meaning to blog a bit more regularly, but at the moment we're just in the settling in stage and not really doing much that is very exciting!  The Boy turned 5 in August and we took a trip to Sea World which was great fun.  The Eldest has learnt to ride her bike without stabilisers (I thought we were never going to get there!) and also turned 7 in August (celebrated with a trip to Steve Irwin's Australia Zoo).  I'm looking forward to seeing more of Australia in September!

Saturday, 13 July 2013

So we're in the house...

Feeding the 'roos on a trip to the Koala Sanctuary.
I thought I'd write a quick update on Oz life.

We made the move into our new house about a week ago and it's been total bliss to have the space again.  The children have made the most of being able to race their scooters up and down the (downstairs) corridors and seem very much at home, although we still get occasional requests to go back "to our old house".  I hope those will dissipate once their toys are in situ.

The house is a reproduction Queenslander, so most of the living space is on the first floor - 4 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a dining room, sitting room, kitchen and mini study.  Downstairs is the 5th bedroom, laundry, 3rd bathroom, 2nd study and a cavernous space that the children have claimed as their own.  At the moment it is mainly furnished with rented furniture, although we have already bought a couple of bits of our own (4 Acapulco chairs for the veranda for example) and the landlady has left a few bits and pieces too.  

The Baby enjoying time out on her trike
(as the older 3 disappear into the distance on their scooters)
I can't wait for our own stuff to arrive.  It's in country and has cleared customs, but we're now waiting for quarantine.  Who knows how long that will take?  As far as we're aware they haven't even set a date to inspect it which is frustrating considering it's been in the country for a week.  I think that it's arrival will help settle the children more and I can't wait to put together the playroom.  The Husband is looking forward to the rest of the kitchen equipment coming ("I don't see how they can call it fully equipped if it doesn't have ramekins!").

We tried out A&E (when The husband dropped a knife on his toe and needed it gluing) and almost made another trip there when The Baby tried to cut her finger off with a pair of scissors.  I've checked out the dentists and already managed a root canal (at vast expense) that was, astoundingly, a very good experience.  We've got to grips with the supermarkets and it does seem like there is not a lot that you can't get here.  I may even be brave enough to try their online service soon.

The new trampoline.
The Eldest and The Boy start school on Monday and I approach it with mixed emotions.  The routine will be good for them and so will the opportunity to make friends.  However, I dislike the way school encroaches into our lives, especially as our school run is going to be a long one (a 20-30 minute drive depending on traffic) and I am not looking forward to the impending playground politics.  It's going to be very quiet next week!

I know that the Australians have been very sniffy about how cold it is here at the moment, but to us, newly arrived from the UK, it's beautiful!  Still very much jeans and possibly jumpers weather, but we've been able to eat plenty of meals out on the veranda during the day and the children even ventured into the pool one day.  No doubt by next winter we will have acclimatised and be whinging too!

Sunning myself on the veranda.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Here safe and sound.

The Boy ready for the flight.

I thought it might be time for a quick update!  I’ve been a bit offline for the last few weeks – the apartment we’re in doesn’t have wifi and my phone has been locked.  I feel like a bit of a fool because I thought that my phone was unlocked already and I could have saved us a lot of hassle if I’d unlocked it before I’d left the UK…

Anyway! We’re all safely here – the older three children were pretty angelic for the journey.  The mini ipads were a super investment.  The Baby was slightly less angelic, but she did sleep on the first flight and a bit on the second, even if not in a way that I could get any.  It could have been a LOT worse.

We’re staying in an apartment in the CBD and it’s pretty nice.  Mostly well stocked and well located too on the river.  It has a heated pool which we’ve taken advantage of a couple of times too. 
The Eldest ready for the flight.

The last 2 weeks (only 2? It seems a lot longer) have been spent looking for houses and schools and generally trying to orientate ourselves.  The children and I have spent a lot of time in playgrounds, getting light on our skin to get over the jetlag and just generally running off steam.  I’ve been super impressed with the playgrounds here – really well designed.  I love the one over at New Farm which is built around a couple of Banyan trees.  The one at the Botanical gardens is smaller, but we can get there along the river bank which is a nice walk.

The ferries have been fun too and we’ve caught them around a bit.  We accidentally went to a farmer’s market on our first weekend here which was a pleasant way to spend $100 in 5 minutes…  The first few days we were here were unseasonably wet, but it’s since brightened up and has been lovely.  Sunny days, if a little breezy.  We’re due some more rain tomorrow, but then it should brighten up for the weekend.
The joys of jetlag.

We were really pleased to find a beautiful house within budget.  It’s a reproduction Queenslander, so hopefully all the benefits of being in a Queenslander without the disadvantages of dodgy wiring etc.  It has a solar heated pool too which we intend on making full use of (those mad English in the pool in winter!).  We’re moving into it on the 6th July.

Schools proved a little harder, particularly with regards to placing The Eldest in Year 2.  However, we’ve found one that we really like that will take her in Year 2 and The Boy in prep (which is equivalent to the UK reception) which is a relief.  They will both be the youngest in their year by a couple of months because the Australian cut off date is at the end of June, which means they should both be in the year below with their August birthdays.  If we were moving here forever, then that wouldn’t be a problem at all, but as we’re intending on coming back to the UK, it was important for us to keep them in their English years.
On the Ferry.

We’ve had some issues with car seats.  Our English ones were illegal here (despite being top of the range in the UK), so we had to buy Australian ones which all require a tether.  With 4 children under 7, they all required tethered seats, but the car we’ve been given (a Hyundai Sante Fe) only has 3 tether points.  After a bit of a battle, they’ve now ordered us a Kia Carnival (aka The Van) which I am thrilled about (I’ve wanted a van for a while…).  Not only will it have the 4th tether point that we need, it will be a lot more practical than the Sante Fe for a family of 6.

So we’re all settling pretty well.  I’ve had some moments of homesickness and missing friends, but it’s been so full on that I haven’t really had time to dwell on it.  The children are a lot more relaxed than they were before we left the UK and I think that they will be happier still when they start school again.  The Husband has even checked out the local Accident and Emergency services, after dropping a sharp knife on his toe.  He needed it glued poor boy…

Snack time at the New Farm playground.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Moving on.

I have neglected this blog recently, too many things to do outside of the virtual world.  However with another move looming, I felt like I wanted to write a little about it.

Me (the littlest one) with my older sister
and brother in Grand Turk.
As a child we moved a lot around the world, we lived in Zambia (before I was born), Nigeria, Grand Turk, Thailand, Malawi, Barbados and Thailand again.  When I flew the nest, I originally was quite QUITE sure that I was never going to leave England ever again, except for the odd holiday here and there.  Things didn't work out quite like that - The Husband works in Oil and Gas and within a year of being married, we had headed off to our first posting in Milan.  We were excited to go, I disliked my job and leapt at the chance to give it up and become an expat.  The deal wasn't quite as I had expected, without the support of my Mother, I had to do so much for myself, so many things that I wasn't even aware of when we were growing up and moving around.  I did my best, I learned Italian and took up a job in an international school.  In time I became pregnant with the Eldest and returned to the UK to give birth (figuring that I wished to be able to scream for an epidural in my own language).  When The Eldest was 6 weeks old, I took her back to Milan and that was a hard time.  Isolated with a baby who had Aspergers (although we didn't know it at the time) and who spent her entire time screaming at me pushed me into post natal depression.

When she was about 6 months old, we were offered the opportunity to move to India, arriving there when she was 8 months old.  We left Milan after 2 years with a light heart, I was looking forward to a more "typical" expat posting, one with nannies, maids and swimming pools!  India was a fantastic experience, we saw as much of it as we could in between pregnancies.  I gave birth to The Boy whilst there.  However, after 3 years, we were ready to come home.  Although we were sad to leave some of our friends (and in particular our lovely Indian Nanny), it was the right time to leave.  Getting on the flight at 35 weeks pregnant felt like a release.

This time it feels different - I think that we have stayed here 6 months too long, we've put down extra roots.  We've had to rehome the animals which has been an almighty wrench.  I am upset to be leaving my support network of friends and family - lots and lots of lovely friends who I have made in the area and others spread out around the country.  A fair number of my lovely friends have "chosen" this moment to announce pregnancies (how very dare they!) and I am sad that I won't be able to cuddle their newborn babies and help them through the first, exhausting, few months of a new baby.  I find myself welling up when I think of moving away from here.  My usual bouncing confidence has taken blow and I become upset over silly things that would normally roll off my back.

Now I KNOW that moving to Australia for a few years is the most wonderful opportunity.  We're looking forward to seeing a new part of the world and starting a new adventure.  I'm looking forward to hitting the beach more often and possibly having a pool in the back garden.  I'm hoping that it'll be easier to teach the children how to ride their bikes and all sorts of other things (although I am less keen on meeting some of the Australia wildlife).

Somehow we have to take these 4 terrors on a 24 hour flight!
I'm pretty organised for the move now - the biggest things have been done; the house has been let; the car has been sold; the animals have been rehomed.  Now I'm just in the stage of packing preparation - cleaning things up for Aussie Quarantine; putting things in the right rooms for packing; finishing the shipping inventory.  This next week will be concentrated on getting the suitcases ready for the flight and the week after that, the packers will be in, packing us up and shipping us out.  Our flights have been booked for the 3rd June.  It's all happening pretty quickly, goodbyes are being said, final drinks being arranged.

But Facebook, blogs and emails make it so much easier to keep in touch with everyone - I hope to be updating this more regularly for anyone who wants to read how we're doing.  So although we're moving on in person, we'll still be here in the virtual world.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Who is stealing all my time?!

I am a fairly organised person.  I think that you have to be with 4 children under 7, 2 dogs and 2 cats, and with my horse coming back from my sister and a pony arriving for the children, time is only going to get tighter.  I do wonder sometimes though where all the time goes, who is the time thief?  Most people say, "Well, you have 4 children!" and that is a valid point, but sometimes it seems that time just slips away from me and I end up running around stressed and anxious instead of the calm person that I prefer to be (although Screaming Harpy Lady has been banished from the house, she still tries to break in at times).

So I turned to pinterest for inspiration on how to be better organised but found that, in general (like this blog about 10 habits for a well-run home), I was already doing the suggestions.  Maybe I was as organised as I could get?  Then I found an article (which of course I have lost and have NO idea where I read it, somewhere on the internet is as good as it gets I'm afraid) which suggested that the most likely candidate for time stealing was not The Husband, The Children, The Dogs or even The Cleaning, but myself.  I was stealing time from myself by not putting things back where they should be as I used them and simply by not doing jobs as I went along.

For example, I have a hot child, so I grab the thermometer from it's resting place in the bathroom cupboard and run downstairs to where the hot child is and take their temperature.  They are feverish, so I put the thermometer down on the side and go and grab them some calpol.  I then forget where the thermometer is, so the next time I go to take a child's temperature, I have to spend 5 minutes hunting down the thermometer.  Or, I come in from the school run and everybody (including me) dumps their stuff in the dining room as we sit down to a snack.  After snack, the children go to tear apart the playroom, leaving coats and shoes in the dining room.  Of course the next morning when we are trying to get ready for school, shoes are lost (mine as well as everyone else's) and tempers get frayed.  Things are NEVER where they should be because we (as I am not the only one guilty of this) have tried to cut corners and shave time off our jobs.

In the long run, I end up stealing the time from myself - 30 seconds is all it takes to run back upstairs and put the thermometer back, about a tenth of the time it will take me to look for it if it's in the wrong place.  30 seconds to put my boots back in the cupboard rather than the 5 minutes as I run round stressing because I have to look in every room because I can't remember where I took them off.  I have not left them in the wrong room because I am lazy and can't be bothered to put them away, but usually because I am hopping on one foot trying to take them off with one hand whilst separating screaming children with the other hand (and my teeth) and pouring glasses of milk with my free foot (I'm multi talented me - prehensile toes).

So who is stealing all my time?! Oh, it is me, I am stealing it from myself.

Over the Christmas break, we worked hard to organise the house even more than it already is to ensure that everything has a place where it can be put and we are making sure that stuff is put away.  Not only ourselves, but the children too.  I have started two separate picking up times during the day - one before lunch and one before tea and I expect the playroom to be tidy at both of those.  The children now put their shoes, coats and other oddments away as they come in from school.  I have a new routine for after school that ensures that spellings and reading are done straight away and don't hang over us.  I wash up the dishes as I go through the day so that there is not a huge load to be done at the end of it.  It is really small things that are making a HUGE difference to my life.  I can now be pretty sure that if I need the thermometer, it will be in the bathroom cupboard, if I need a scarf, it is in a specific box in the coat cupboard and if I need a large gin, the bottle is in the alcohol cabinet... It's working well, the putting away as well as the gin that is, and life has become calmer still.  One day I may even reach the zen like state that I aspire to. One day.