The here and now and a bit of way back then

I relived my journey to 40 and found there's so much more to say

Love is……..heart shaped food items

To think, so many years ago I expressed such disdain for the heart shaped potato wedge. To recap, I once walked past a colleague’s desk who had a recipe card for heart shaped potato wedges on it. I don’t know how it happened but I sort of went, ‘How sad’ out loud and continued on my way. Except I didn’t get very far before I was ungallantly halted in my tracks by a high pitched ‘What do you mean by that?’

Ah. In an open plan office there is nowhere to hide. I was not to know that mere minutes beforehand my colleague had been excitedly sharing plans for her and her partner’s first romantic home cooked St Valentine’s Day dinner.

But look at me now. Diligently manoeuvring wedges of melon into a heart shape for the breakfasting delight of #1, 2 and 3. And having tried it out for myself, there is something rather pleasing and happy about it. Heart shaped food items seems to be the way to go this St Valentine’s Day as demonstrated by M&S. #lovesausage.

I feel that it is important for children to see small gestures of love and romance around them. Love in its simplest form that young children believe in revives me from the commercial cynicism I have felt over the years around this occasion.

 

Handmade cards. A chocolate lollipop. A cupcake. More than enough to make someone feel special.

 

So go on, what’s your heart shaped food item going to be this St Valentine’s Day?

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Blue Monday

Blue Monday.

The most depressing day of the calendar year. Apparently.

Truth be told I can think of other days. However let’s go with today. The third Monday in January and the beginning of a week where most people give up on their New Year’s Resolutions, if they haven’t already. I gave up making resolutions some years ago that involved not to do something but rather to take up something new instead. Why start the New Year reminding yourself of your shortcomings and resolving to get rid of them when if you don’t succeed you’ll just feel bad about that too.  Like my many attempts to declutter…

I know Blue Monday is a term coined up by a travel company some years ago presumably to get more people to book holidays. And who wouldn’t want a holiday to look forward to, imagining all the new places to travel and explore. The promise of blue skies and the sun warm on your face. It can feel like an age since we were among those heady days of not caring about locating socks and jumpers. And yet it wasn’t really that long ago and those days are not far off again. It’s one of the joys of living in a country with actual seasons.

I feel we can be unfair to January but after the razzle, dazzle and sparkle of December, it’s a tough act to follow. And with all the excess of the festive season, well there’s likely to be a period of come down like with all highs.

But look closely though and you can see just how hard working January really is. We long for Spring and yet Spring doesn’t just happen overnight. Though it can feel that way when you suddenly notice the bloom of crocuses and daffodils. The grey of January contrasts gloriously with the colour of spring to help us better appreciate what is about to come. Take a closer look at January. You can see the trees are beginning to bud what will become new leaves and in the midst of frost covered ground the spring flowers are already there.

January is a time for recharging ourselves after a hectic holiday season. To go easy on ourselves rather than abstain completely.  Explore possibilities or plan for later. January should not be endured but appreciated for bringing a new year, new adventures.

As for today being Blue Monday, there was nothing blue about it apart from the sky.

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2018 Year End Reflections

Wow, it’s New Year’s Eve again. I seem to have lost track of those days between Christmas and New Year and it feels like New Year’s Eve has just sprung out in front of me. Once a big occasion in the social calendar, now I wonder whether I’ll make it up past midnight and how soon after is it acceptable to go to bed. Which is quite odd seeing as on a regular day, I’m frequently up past midnight trying to squeeze in a bit of Grown Up time after the children have gone to bed and relish all that is peaceful and quiet.

So how has this year been for you? I hope 2018 has brought some great times for you to take into 2019. A new year, a fresh start. It’s always good to have that. The opportunity to have a chat with yourself about all the things you would like to do.

Truth be told, I haven’t done half the things that I thought I might do. Like downsize stuff and maintain a tidy home. Still a lot of stuff around in unwieldy heaps here and there. I haven’t properly looked at returning to Gainful Employment either. It’s a juggling act that I haven’t quite felt ready for and among the needing to be here and there, I wonder where Gainful Employment would fit in. I imagine it will fit in, I just haven’t had the capacity to think about it yet.

This year was perhaps always about getting through it. So soon after the passing of my Dad, Mr Li and the solo parenting situation for nine months. I should allow myself that I have had a lot of other things on my mind. But at the start, I guess I had to give myself a list of other things to think of. Tasks to complete. Goals to achieve. I miss my Dad, Mr Li every day but I have to concede that today I can live alongside it better than a year ago. Though it was very hard to imagine that would ever be so. I don’t cry every day like I did for the first three months but it still doesn’t take much.

I’d like to think that in every year, you will find something good to take with you into the next one, even if you have had some of the most challenging of times. I suppose I started thinking this way back in January as I desperately needed to look out for something good to take from each day that would help provide a bit of peace in my heart.

It was a particularly bracing first winter to come back to but with it came real snow that fell from the sky and not packed from a machine like what the children had been exposed to in Snow City. Quite lucky considering there hadn’t been a heavy snowfall like this for the past four years or so. The fresh winds and crunch of boots along pathways as I went on many a solitary walk helped me manage my grief. That feeling of deep loss and sadness in my heart would abate a little with each step. And I found that when you look for it, you will see that there is plenty to feel a bit cheerier about. Perhaps not in the same way as you would like but lighter of spirit all the same. If I couldn’t see something good in each day then what else could I fill this empty void with. I hadn’t seen snowdrops and crocuses dot the landscape with colour for over a decade. How they sprung back again after being covered in snow and flattened by sledgers. You have got to marvel at the resilience of nature. And even at your own resilience.

I’m not sure how I got through the start of this year. I still feel emotional thinking about it.  It wasn’t just me who was in this great period of change and upheaval. It was not the start to this new life that we had in mind for the children but they too are incredibly resilient. So you keep on moving as they help you keep moving. And it’s too hard to see their worry and sadness and so you keep paving the way to see the good things of our new life. They have been a great comfort and support and one thing I’m looking forward to for next year is that we are all moving forward together as a complete family.

Whilst I may have been quietly preoccupied with my own thoughts, loss and ‘what ifs’, I think I have still managed to seize a great many opportunities too.  As I look back upon the year, it brings a smile to recall that I have seen a great number of friends in my new home town, in theirs and even overseas to new places. I’ve reconnected with an old friend of over 30 years that I hadn’t seen for almost 15 years and found that our ability to step into conversation hasn’t changed. I feel completely blessed to have seen so many familiar faces this year who have gone out of their way to catch up during a time where I could not have appreciated their love and support more.

And I have at least achieved some of the things on my to do list. The decluttering can wait. Back in March I took my first knitting lesson and since then I’ve been bobble hat knitting for quite a few people whether they need a new hat or not. There is definitely something rewarding with creating something yourself. I was inspired by the creations I’d seen a good friend made. They were these gorgeous blankets she’d made for her children. A true labour of love. And what’s not to love about weaving a ball of wool into something else. It’s been wholly satisfying. As has my other new love of jam making. Boiling fruit and sugar together into dainty pots of deliciousness. You’ve probably been on the receiving end of that too. And then I wonder why the Dentist asks me if I have a high sugar diet…

As bracing as the first winter has been, summer could practically be described as tropical. There is so much beautiful countryside around us that it is hard to wish to be anywhere else. Even when it’s grey and drizzly, you know that there will be sunnier days ahead. So when I am asked how are we settling into our new home town, I can honestly say we have settled in with great aplomb.

The last few months has been a whirlwind of activity as is the norm with three young children of school age. I’m a bit more prepared than I was last year and I’m a lot better supported by a local network of new friends who aren’t just the parents of children from school. I have been fortunate with the people I have met and who have been kind enough to reach out and listen and help.

It’s funny to think that a decade ago, I thought that my social networks were more or less likely to stay as they were back then. And perhaps they would have done if we hadn’t moved abroad. Life is enriched by the friendships you make and even by the friendships that fall by the wayside for reasons known only to them.

As I end this year reflecting on all that 2018 has brought our way, it is yet another trying year that has brought deep sadness and tears but also laughter and joy too. There have great highs with family unions and news that we will meet more new additions in 2019. In our hearts we may feel a shadow of sadness that is ours alone but all this wonderful news lifts us up and willingly along.

I probably will have the same sort of to do list for 2019 as I did ending last year. But I think that’s perfectly ok because there will always be stuff to do. And there is always stuff you can find to do that is infinitely more fun.

So, tonight we’re off to celebrate New Year’s Eve with other Grown Ups too, albeit with the children in tow. However you may be celebrating, I wish you peace, happiness and good health for the new year ahead. Embrace it with an open mind and see what fresh hope it brings.

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Christmas is Love

Yesterday I was in a shop that I go to quite regularly and we were having the usual kind of pre-Christmas exchange. Was I all set for Christmas Day. How excited were the children.

The children have been building up to Christmas Day for a good 6 weeks. That is a lot of excitement and no great wonder that they are all exhausted. As are the Grown Ups I’m sure.

I certainly will be looking forward to a lie in tomorrow morning with no thought of heading to a supermarket. I think I have enough food to last until New Year’s Day. I’ve never once had to plan and strategise ahead for the Christmas Day Big Food Shop but this year I found myself wondering exactly when should one plan to take on this seemingly dreaded task. I’ve never had to spend much time thinking about it before in the Tropics. The most concern I had was whether there would be Brussel sprouts in the most Expat supermarket there was.

And it seems over here that can also be of concern. Plan your Christmas Day Big Food Shop too late and you are seriously at risk of having no sprouts to the side of your turkey. And I totally wouldn’t have believed it was a thing until I ventured to the nearest big supermarket on Saturday at 8am and then again on Christmas Eve at 8am to find that Christmas produce had almost all vacated the building! It is fair to say that it was a wise move on my part to stockpile three bags of salted caramel pretzels a few weeks ago. It’s a long time to go between February and October without them. And I don’t understand why at no other time of the year they do those mini cocktail crackers, so handy for packing in the children’s snack bags. I have stockpiled a few boxes of those too.

Christmas is stressful and busy. Perhaps in the midst of it all, you may stop and wonder why go to all that effort, expense and trouble. Maybe’s next year should be pared back and lower key. Especially in the days before when you, the children and people standing in endless queues are quite simply, grouchy and tired. I know that feeling too.

But as I stood chatting to this lady yesterday, she recounted a story about her nephew who many years ago questioned what is Christmas supposed to be all about. Besides the arrival of the baby Jesus. The answer he got was Christmas is about love.

And today I really felt what that means. Sometimes children and Christmas can be a lot about the presents. This year though and like last year, whilst presents have been a big thing still for the children, so has the absence of loved ones. Something that we cannot change. It does not shape our day but it’s still there. We have laughter and joy but we wish others were a part of it too.

Christmas Day does not have to be big and perfect. There will be the usual mishaps and squabbles. But Christmas Day should be a little bit magical, a little extra effort. Just to say that for the love of this family, I’d like to do this, because being able to do this is what makes it special for me too.

Wishing you a Merry Christmas and a peaceful evening. x

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And it’s not yet Christmas

I am giving myself two days off to do nothing. NOTHING. Well, not quite nothing when #1, 2 and 3 are now on Christmas holidays. But nothing insofar as not having to remember anything on a school related to do list. Of course the Christmas to do list is still pending and I probably will be up very late on Sunday (hopefully not Monday) getting stuff done.

And I don’t quite know how it has happened. It’s not like I didn’t know Christmas was coming. But there does seem to be quite a common annual theme occurring here when I think about it. How the Christmas to do list is still to do-ing all the way right up until Christmas Eve and sometimes the early hours of Christmas Day itself! But how?

Well I’ve realised that whilst Christmas starts appearing in the shops among the Halloween stuff, it’s too early for me to want to do anything about it. But I do thoroughly love the anticipation of the full on festooning of Christmas all around us. And I think about it and start putting together a list of things I’d like to do or need to buy in my head and let ideas mature like you would your Christmas cake. And then just when I think it’s time to start putting Christmas action plans into place, my days are suddenly full of other stuff!

Way back in September, when children were waved off in shiny new school shoes to start a brand new academic year, you embrace that feeling of joyful relief that comes with knowing you have that bit of FREE TIME again. Used wisely, you can achieve any number of things. I don’t think I’ve used that time wisely. I haven’t done any of my household to do things that have been pending for over a year now. But that’s by the by.

So. We’re now five days to Christmas and I have presents unwrapped and food shopping left precariously at risk of having no sprouts to the side of the turkey. It’s never an intentional situation but quite worthy of repeating in an interview scenario as an example of how one works well to tight deadlines and under pressure.

How often do parents of younger children look at parents of older children and ask ‘does it get any easier?’ and the parents of older children look you straight in the eye and without a twitch of humour reply ‘no.’ But you secretly don’t believe them because how can it possibly not get any easier than right now! Easier maybe not. Different perhaps yes. Any less busy, definitely not.

Last week I had to write out several times the many different places I had to be for various in school and after school events and for which child. Swimming assessments, Victorian Christmas markets, dance shows, gymnastics, Christmas carol show, Christmas jumpers, Christmas parties. The dance show! Last year could be considered what some people may say as a parenting ‘fail.’ When your child has toiled over the course of 10 weeks learning a new skill. Overcoming nerves of performing in front of an audience of watchful parents. Putting their best moves out there to make parents proud. Only for said parent to arrive for the jazz hands finale. Ah, a memory that will stay with me forever. To be fair, it can’t have been a very long routine. Anyways, I’m happy to say that there was no such repeat this year. That would have been a proper fail.

Sometimes, it can feel like you haven’t achieved anything at all in a week. Being here and there for this and that. But I forget how lucky I am that I do have that opportunity to attend all this and remember how important it is to children that you do. But I am looking forward to taking the next two days off just to take a deep breath, slow down a bit so that we can all enjoy Christmas itself.

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Remembering my Dad, Mr Li

Mid November and the Christmas market in our new home town is here again this weekend. Beginning the season bringing festive cheer. Stalls are bedecked with ideas for Christmas gifts and scrumptious gourmet foods to laden down any dining table. There are fairground rides for the children (and adults too if you squeeze in a touch) and the air is heavy with the smell of mulled wine and sizzling sausages as you move around the market. There’s something quite enchanting about a Christmas market with all the little wooden huts peddling their wares that gets you feeling a lot like Christmas.

Last year was our first family Christmas market outing in actual cold weather wrapped up in hats, scarves and coats. It’s never quite the same when it’s winter in the tropics no matter how beautifully festive the lights are.

And for me, the Christmas market will always be synonymous with the passing of my Dad, Mr Li.

One whole year. A hard year without question and not just for myself. I reflect on how we have managed to get through it and there are moments I wish were different. I know there have been times where grief had worn me out so much, I definitely wasn’t the parent I aspire to be. The one that is patient and reasonable instead of shouty and distracted. When children fight over the smallest of things in the face of your own great loss and you want to yell at them to stop being so petty, what would Gung Gung think. He would think they were his little stars. If ever I complained about their behaviour, he would say to me, ‘that’s what children do’. Can I also say, that if ever I had paid my Dad, Mr Li any of the lip service I’ve had from his grandchildren, I very much doubt I would have gotten away with him lightly brushing it off in the same way.

Very gradually, I can feel myself imagining what my Dad, Mr Li would say and do in particular scenarios. My favourite being the video I would have sent him of #2’s  requested Birthday treat at the climbing wall. The sheer panic he’d be feeling watching her as she scaled right to the top and then bouncing her way back down again. He’d be straight on the phone pointing out the dangers of such activity and I’d be blithely agreeing  because there’s no point interrupting him until he’s had his say. But I also know that he’d be watching that video several times more, marveling at her daring and telling his friends about it.

I love how the children ask for Rich Tea biscuits for school snacks because they know that’s what he enjoyed too. I guess this is how the memory of someone we love continues to live on.

And speaking of biscuits, in one of our kitchen cupboards on a high shelf, there’s a Breakaway I’ve put there. I found it in my Dad, Mr Li’s coat pocket when he went into hospital. So I took it home with me and now I don’t know what to do with it. I can’t throw it away and I can’t eat it. Although Husband almost did when he came upon it. He wasn’t to know why it was there, he wasn’t here at the time and I had put it there out of reach of the children. I said to him, imagine if you had eaten it. He said, I know. Quite relieved he escaped having to find out. Because whilst rationally I know it’s just a biscuit, at the time of discovery, it Meant Something. Whereas what it means quite simply, is that my Dad, Mr Li is a sensible man and liked to have snacks on him in case of emergencies. The things we need to cling onto when we are scared that memories are not enough.

And memories are everywhere. Hard to deal with at first. I went into a shop to buy toothpaste for the children and came out immediately, feeling overwhelmed and sobbing because I passed the aisle selling the hair conditioner my Dad, Mr Li used on recommendation from his friend. I saw it and I remembered him telling me about it and that was all that was needed to set me off. I was unprepared for it and felt slightly ridiculous at how easily the tears came. But thankfully, I wasn’t alone that day and had someone who could say to me that this was all perfectly normal. That you will spend however long it takes, going about your regular business, feeling fine one moment and in tears the next. It was all ok.

Even when you start crying when the plumber comes around to fix the heating. I feel so bad thinking about that poor man’s face having to face me with tears rolling down my cheeks as he’s telling me about what’s wrong with the heating and that awkward moment he stops and asks if I’m ok.

I can’t begin to say how truly thankful I am for all the times I was asked if I was ok. For the times spent with family and friends that gave me occasions to look forward to and things to do, especially when Husband was still away in Singapore. The friends who listened to everything without making judgement and giving me the counsel I needed even down to what meals I should cook that week because I’d lost creative thought. And I also wondered about that too. All the things that I did and no longer felt like doing. Going out for a run, reading a book, making something crafty. They too gradually came back to me and some more. I felt a need to see something new and appreciate something new every day. I’ve finally learnt how to knit, just bobble hats for now. But creating that something yourself is uplifting for the soul as I hand out slices of cake and bobble hats to those around me.

Yesterday was a terrible day. I thought it was the stress from anticipating today but what I think contributed to most of the terribleness was a week of illness running through the whole family which is always grotty and perhaps a touch too much sparkling fizz the night before on our School Mum’s night out. Mild hangovers make for grey days on a good day. So I do what I normally do. Getting outdoors and walking it off. The day was misty and atmospheric mirroring how I felt at the time. As I walked through the woods, I veered off the footpath deciding to take a different route following a bridle path. But instead of the robust stomp I thought I’d be taking, I was tentatively picking my way along the path hoping I wouldn’t go skidding in horse poo and mud and the thought once again, of what my Dad, Mr Li would have said about the state of my shoes and jeans made me laugh to myself.

So today, whilst incredibly sad, is a day for remembering how much we were all loved by my Dad, Mr Li. And to not have that today may feel hard and I will from time to time wish we had that extra day but at least we did have it for as long as we did.

My Dad, Mr Li. Much loved always. x

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World Mental Health Day 2018

A whole school day was dedicated to discussing mental health and well-being to mark World Mental Health Day. I welcome the more open dialogue on the pressures faced by children and young adults that could have a profound effect on their well being and the importance of building mental resilience to help them face the many stressful conditions they will come up against as they move through adolescence.

It is a concern for me as a parent to three young children who are growing up in a digital world so different to the childhood that I had. Certainly there exists the same issues that were there some 35 years ago such as friendships and being accepted and not being excluded for whatever reason.  There are now new ones that have arisen through the widespread introduction of technology into our everyday lives.

#3 asked for an iPad for her Birthday, which she didn’t get, because to her it seemed like a normal thing to ask for. I can imagine what she would most likely use it for is to watch YouTube videos of people unwrapping LOLs. If left to her own devices, she could probably spend hours doing that. In our household, much like most others, I have daily requests for tv time, iPad time, games console time or time on my phone. If they have time on one form of technology, they think it should be acceptable that they can have time on another form too because they are not the same. It’s not that I say No all the time, I would just feel better if I saw them out playing and having fun with their friends too. Whilst the weather is still good, we are out at the park after school everyday and it makes me feel good to see them playing and I get a chance to talk to other grown up people. All of us feel good.

Technology in all its form has simplified many aspects of life but makes parenting more complicated.

The message that #1, 2 and 3 bring back today is the importance of liking your physical and emotional self and how to take care of both. More importantly how to take care of each other. The school promotes meditation club as an extracurricular activity, they do yoga and from today they are engaging in a ‘fill your bucket’ activity. It’s an initiative to encourage children to be kind to themselves and others, to help them think of what would be a kind act that would help you fill your bucket today. By filling your bucket with kindness, brings happiness and at the end of the day, you think of how this could share the happiness.

In an age of growing isolation, lost art of communication, suspicion of others and time, I think this is an important initiative and life skill to bestow upon children. To support their well being and ability to look out for others. In my recent experience of feeling less than emotionally strong and mentally tired, the difference to your a day is when someone notices that you need someone to ask “How have you been?” and not be afraid of what you say.

I don’t know how many schools have a team of counsellors on site that look after the emotional well being of children who attend the school. It was a pleasant surprise to discover this when #1, 2 and 3 joined last year. I asked the team what kind of support was provided to the children and I was told that it’s a cozy space that children of all ages can come to talk about anything that is on their mind. It can range from building confidence, chatting about friendship concerns to helping children make sense of some of the deeper emotions that they may be feeling due to circumstances at home.

I think we’re very lucky that school provides this valuable resource. Even if you never have to use it, you know that’s its there. That there is always someone who will listen if you need to talk. And just being someone who will listen will make all the difference.

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Birthday Eve so soon again?

So it seems that Birthday Eve is upon me again. And not just any ordinary Birthday Eve. It’s been five years since I wrote my first post on this blog just before I turned 39 and started the countdown to that significant 40th Birthday, which also means that in another five years time I’ll be starting the countdown to that next significant number! Along with most of you too.

I remember last Birthday Eve my thoughts were on new beginnings that were yet to start. It was both exciting and daunting, the prospect of starting a new life in a new town. There was so much I had absolutely no idea about. Even the seemingly simple stuff like when do the rubbish bins and recycling get collected. One week rubbish, next week recycling. You’d think from the same spot for both right? But no, rubbish from the back of the house, recycling from the front. Who knew sorting out your utilities would be more complex than your tax return.

I have found that it takes just a handful of people who are kind enough to reach out and make a newcomer feel welcome to help you on your way. I did notice though that it was mainly #3 starting in Reception year that made the most difference in opening doors to a new social network. I discovered that for #1 and #2, their peer group was a lot more established with friendships having been formed some years ago as early as when they were in Nursery. I guess for the parents too, most parent friendships were formed back then. Still, it takes time to slowly get to know people and on that note, I’ve been very lucky in having made several new friends that I look forward to seeing more often.

After the bright lights and convenience of city living for so long, at first it felt restrictive to find myself back somewhere that shut shop at 6pm latest. So that town centres became quickly deserted and empty of people. Then I realised what did it actually matter when it’s not like I have the freedom to just pop out once the children were back from school! There is also something comforting about that too, to just be at home. I particularly liked that feeling in the long evenings of late autumn and winter where you could take time to slow down, draw the curtains and hibernate.

After a year of settling back in the UK, I get asked what is it that I miss most about Expat living, I miss the diversity of culture and the food. I miss the adventures and exotic locations. I miss home help in the fact that it afforded me so much freedom and spontaneity. Most of all I miss the friends that I have out there. The diversity of those friendships and the mix of interests, passion and inspiration they give.

A year in, I have a varied life here, perhaps not as glamorous (on the surface) as before but one that I have enjoyed pursuing. I have been trying out new things like knitting and jam making. I know it sounds so quaint but the jam making in particular has been highly satisfying. I have this lovely big jam making pot and in it I’ve boiled many bags of sugar with a mix of seasonal local fruits and you end up with lovely jars of yumminess. I can leave bowls of strawberries seeped in sugar overnight without fretting about a trail of ants overtaking my kitchen in seconds. There’s something very soothing about creating something yourself. The action of changing this into that, mixing a bit of this with a bit of that is very good for the soul.

Most of all though, I have really enjoyed getting back together with family and friends. And it doesn’t take long to fall back into step with family like you haven’t been away at all. Exactly like you haven’t been away at all…

The children in particular have loved getting to know cousins and old friends that they’ve met on previous trips back. It gives me great joy to see these children having fun together and forming new childhood memories of their own. I’ve also had the opportunity to reconnect with an old childhood friend I hadn’t seen in over 15 years. It was quite some catch up, not just to hear about how she was doing but also about some old friends I hadn’t heard about since we were 16 years old. I’m sure we all know people that we have lost touch with over the years and from time to time wonder how they are doing.

I’m not surprised really that this past year seems to have passed by so quickly. So much has happened. So much change. So much to process. So many things to get used to whether I like it or not. It has been my most challenging year so far but also one that has probably given me the most strength and reflection too. I guess this is what sets us apart from our 25 year old selves and what ultimately makes us better able to support and empathise with those around us.

So tomorrow I’ll be firmly in that new category of middle 40s. Ooof. And as a new Birthday dawns, I’ve decided that I’m not quite ready to think about the next big goal yet.  I’m content enough with the small things, I’ve got a woolly hat to finish by November for #3, some more varieties of jam to make, crafts to finish, a home to declutter (snort, I mean one can think about it) and this blog to keep going.

 

That for me, is enough to think about for now.

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Where did that school year go?

The brand new shine of black patent leather shoes has long since been scuffed away. The pristine white of a school polo shirt has been washed out of shape, mottled with splodges of paint. Cardigans have buttons missing and jumpers are well, just missing.

It’s hard to imagine that we have reached the end of another academic year. Yet here we are about to start six weeks and two days of summer holidays. You could see that for many the 2.30pm bell today couldn’t come soon enough, with Teachers following swiftly on the heels of parents and children out of the school gates.

It doesn’t seem that long ago when I waved off #1, 2 and 3 off to their new Big School and wondered about the six hours I would have to while away. (Turns out that six hours isn’t really that long after all when you’re back to doing your own laundry and general keeping of home.)

It is a stressful decision choosing a school and especially when we chose a school without the benefit of paying a visit beforehand. We really were throwing them all into a new unknown. Especially after the gloss of a large international school overseas with all the facilities like an on site swimming pool and full size running track. These things do matter of course and it is a shame that their current primary school lacks the space of a sports field.

I know without doubt that all three have had a happy year at school. I don’t think any parent could ask for anything more at this stage. Sure, academic standing and sporting achievement is important but also is the well being and welfare of each child. Times have changed dramatically since my school days in the 80s. There’s a lot more out there competing for the attention of a child’s time than Maths and English. Indeed, even we as parents offer children a lot more extracurricular activity than just Brownies and Scouts.

But also not much has changed for children going to school. Maths and English is sort of the same but somehow long division is not a thing anymore. The complexities of playground friendships however, remains every child’s golden goal and parental heartache.

“What did you learn today?”

“What did you have for school lunch?”

“Who were your friends?”

These three questions form the basis of our short walk home after school. Most of the time they can’t remember what they’ve learnt but will speak quite enthusiastically about lunch, especially if ice cream or cake pudding is involved. The answers to the third one though, have on many occasion made me want to weep for them. Sometimes there have been minor fall outs and you figure that’s something they’re going to have to navigate themselves.

But sometimes, when you hear that your child went to lunchtime club by themselves without another buddy, your heart wonders why. Because no parent likes to imagine their child has not made a friend and we can not be there to help them. Of course we can’t be there engineering friendships we think our children should be making either. I have found that a lot of a child’s social circle evolves around school, unlike our days in Singapore where they had friends within the condo we lived in and also from the Expat community in general.

Everything is a lot more compact, a lot more local community in the town that we live in. And with that, and within the school, there seems to be a greater holistic approach to nurturing each child’s ability and emotional well being that I really like. I can’t remember with much significance whether my Reception year teacher gave out as many warm hugs and encouraging words. Perhaps she did and I just don’t recall. Perhaps #3 won’t recall how kind, caring and warm her Reception year teacher is. But I do and as a parent wondering whether you’ve made the right decision in sending your child to the right school, this is what you need to see.

As I look through all the school books that have come back with #1 and 2, I can also see how hard they’ve worked and how each piece of homework (a source of much weekend angst to be honest) is a reinforcement of what they’ve been learning in class. And I have been so impressed and grateful for how quickly it was noticed where a child has lacked strength in an area and how a support plan was put into place.

The children’s school was recently inspected by Ofsted and achieved Outstanding in every category. A well deserved recognition. And it’s also a school where the happiness and well being of the children who attend is at the heart of it.

At the end of this school year in a brand new school for all of us, I’m so glad and relieved over how well each child has thrived and the lovely friends they’ve made.

And I will be so glad to wave them off again back in September but first we’ve got a summer holiday to see to.

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Longest day of the year

It’s almost 10pm and it’s still daylight out there. Officially the sun set at 9.41pm in my area of the UK.  These long days are a lovely part of a UK spring/summer. It makes you feel you’ve got so much more time to do things. Even putting out the bins at 8.30pm instead of thinking it was late not to have done so by 6pm.

If I had a garden, I can imagine leaving the back door open and sitting there with a glass of something enjoying the last rays of daylight. I say I imagine myself doing that, but most likely I’ll be trying to convince #1, 2 and 3 that it’s bedtime. They are just about accustomed to this new way of living. When we first arrived back in the UK last August, they were adamant it can’t possibly be bedtime when it’s still light outside. That’s one thing you have in Singapore, consistent sunset and sunrise. No need for blackout blinds when it’s dark by 7.15pm and light by 6.45am. There’s also comfort in that too. The predictability of things.

With warmer weather and the evenings drawing out, we’re back to visits to the park after school until it’s ready to go home for dinner. Last September, new to all this, I asked a friend what did everyone do when the clocks go forward and it’s getting dark by 4.30pm. Her answer was, everyone goes home or you arrange playdates. The idea that I could potentially not converse with another grown up all day was quite frightening. Equally not only is it getting dark but with that it gets cold. Unlike in Asia. So your preference to be at home is increased.

The change of seasons is one of life’s greatest pleasures. It adds variety to our day. It stops us from being monotonous and it allows for spontaneity. It should teach us not to take things for granted and help us to open our eyes to see what’s around us. There is so much change and hard work going on in nature without us noticing. It has taken nine years of living with no seasonal changes to appreciate this now that I have it back.

Whilst I was living away, I always cited how I missed the change of seasons. So perhaps because of this, I’ve paid more attention to how summer fades into autumn and drops into winter to rise again in spring. Winter has been particularly harsh for my first one in 10 years but I didn’t mind so much. The cold wind on my cheeks as I trampled paths in the park made me feel energised. Watching the bloom of snowdrops in the dead of winter. The revival of crocuses that had blossomed and then were crushed under a late snowfall, only to reappear once the snow had melted away showed me how resilient nature really is.

I also had another reason to lean on the seasons. When my Dad, Mr Li, passed away in November, the days were already quite short. I was thankful that I didn’t need to go to the park in the sunshine and while away time in idle chit chat. I needed to be at home and I needed the grey skies and cold wind that reflected how I felt at that time. And it almost felt like as winter turned to spring and now to summer, I too have slowly gathered strength and started to replenish myself again.

So on today, the longest day of the year, I thank Nature for all that it gives us.

This photo was taken at 10pm! Can you imagine.

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