In the United States, fifth grade officially marks the end of elementary school or primary school, as we would know it in New Zealand. If we had been staying in Portland, Olive would have moved onto Middle School after the summer break. Middle schools are a bit like New Zealand intermediate schools although students attend them for three years as opposed to two.
Reaching the end of fifth grade brought with it a flurry of activities, trips and special studies for Olive. First up was marching with the Bridlemile band in the Junior Rose Parade. You might remember from my last post that one of Portland’s nicknames is the City of Roses and every year the city hosts a festival of roses, with parades, dragon boats, floral displays and the crowning of the rose queen. The junior rose parade is the country’s oldest and largest children’s parade, and marching bands from various local schools are the major attraction.
My Dad is a very talented trumpet player. He used to play in the dance halls in his native Edinburgh and when he had a young family, he’d do a full days work then head out at night to play in Wellington clubs like the Majestic Cabaret, to bring in extra money. Jonny Gilbertson even appears in the liner notes of an early recording by none other than Kiwi opera legend Kiri Te Kanawa. Whilst his children have dabbled with various musical instruments over the years, none picked up the trumpet, and none of his grandchildren have either…until now…
We suspect that Olive’s decision to ditch orchestra and join band was the lure of marching in the parade but she surprised us by not only choosing the trumpet for her instrument but also, by actually being quite good at it!
I have to admit to feeling very emotional as we watched her marching through the streets of the Hollywood district and did wish my Dad could have been there. We don’t have the school marching band tradition in New Zealand but Olive has assured us she wants to keep up playing the horn.
Since then there has been a jet boat trip on the Willamette, a pool party, a quick Shakespeare study – Olive was chosen to read Juliet’s part…swoon – and a little bit of FLASH education. Despite the interesting acronym, flash is nothing to do with men in long raincoats – it’s the good old puberty education unit and Olive told me exactly nothing about it! “So what did you talk about?”“Mum! Nothing! I’m not telling you!” “Anything you want to ask me or share?” “I’ve already told you Mum…nothing!”“Who’s giggling and being inappropriate? Tell me about the questions from the anonymous box!” “For God’s sake Mum!!” She didn’t actually say that last bit but I suspect she really wanted to!
Today was the last day of school and it began with the Fifth Grade promotion ceremony. Each fifth grade teacher made a little speech about their class and then each child marched across the stage to receive a certificate.
The day ends with the fifth grade clap out. As the bell rings, the graduating class emerge from a certain door and walk along a path lined with parents clapping and high five-ing…
It’s been a hugely emotional week…lots of grieving for what we are leaving behind…but also excitement at what lies ahead. For now I just want to thank the wonderful Bridlemile Elementary community. Our girls have been so happy here and whilst they are both very sad to leave, their tears just reinforce what a great place it is…
Once we’d made the decision to move to Portland I set about doing some research. I flicked through some city guides and cycling guides, but the bulk of my research into our new home consisted of reading the Wildwood Chronicles – a children’s fantasy series which is set in Portland.
The Wildwood Chronicles are written and illustrated by a husband and wife team who live in Portland. Colin Meloy is the lead vocalist of Portland indie folk band The Decemberists and his wife, Carson Ellis, is an award winning children’s book illustrator. It’s got elements of fairy tale, Narnia, Alice in Wonderland, Tolkien and Jim Henson’s Labyrinth; talking animals; evil industrialist tycoons and, to me anyway, a very strong plug for the power and benefits of meditation. Truth be told the reviews of this series are very mixed – it seems to be a love it or hate it kind of book. I’d seen it back in the library at John Kerr elementary – what attracted me to it is the illustrations – but I doubt I would have made time for it had it not been set in Portland. Having said that, I did enjoy all three of the chronicles. Possibly much of that was to do with the fact that I was reading about an environment that was soon to be my home. I read the books whilst still in Bend…they got me quite excited about the move!
In one of those lovely twists of fate, we have ended up living not far from Forest Park, the Wildwood which is the key setting of the stories. The Wildwood area is also home to Pittock Mansion, an historic home that was built in 1914 for one of Portland’s founding families. Pittock Mansion features in the Wildwood Chronicles – it is the seat of Government for South Wood. (In the Wildwood Chronicles, Forest Park is divided into North Wood which is pastoral and rural, whereas the South is industrialized and urban.)
Today we took a wee stroll through some of the Wildwood trails and had a quick look at the exterior of Pittock Mansion.
We are loving all the trees in Portland. We’ve nicknamed our house the tree house as that’s pretty much all you see from any of our windows, and luckily, we have a lot of them!
Much of our time since arriving in Portland has been focussed on the new house and the new school, but we did find some time last weekend to get away to the coast. One of the attractions of Portland – apart from all the trees – is it’s proximity to the sea, something us island dwellers sorely missed whilst in VA where it was a good three hour drive to get to the closest beach.
So twenty four days after arriving in Portland we are doing well. The girls and I even survived a whole week by ourselves when Richard was taking in the delights of Cincinnati and Boston last week.
I hope to be back soon with more about our new home. We hope that all our friends and family are well and happy and that you enjoy the beginnings of our Portlandia adventure!
As I’ve said before, our experience of public school thus far in the US has been, on the whole positive – so much so that we’re about to send the girls back to a public school in a couple of weeks. There is one area, however, where I do think New Zealand is doing a far superior job, and that’s education outside the classroom – and by that I don’t mean taking your maths books outside to sit under a tree whilst you do your sums.
The rationale for EOTC in New Zealand is outlined below:
“Students need to learn in a variety of contexts in order to gain the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and values required to enjoy a healthy lifestyle; take responsibility for their own safety; form positive and respectful relationships with their peers, their teachers, and the environment; and participate in the creation of safer communities.”
EOTC can take many forms, some of which the girls have experienced here in the United States – trips to the library, the fire station, local museums etc. But as yet I have seen no evidence of our wonderful programmes which get kids, even those in a big city, right out into nature, those wonderful school camps which I remember fondly both as a student and a teacher.
When we went back to NZ in June, Olive and Edie’s cousin was off on a three night camp with his class. I camped overnight at school as an eight year old, had a week long camp at intermediate (6th and 7th grade), and there were numerous other camps of varying lengths whilst I was at high school. As a teacher I was involved in some sort of camp, school or marae sleepover, every year that I taught. Admittedly there was a huge amount of work involved in the planning and preparation of these activities, and they require a high level of parental support and involvement, but they were so good for building a real sense of community among the children and parents. And, most importantly, for those children who would never get the opportunity to go camping, they still had the chance to experience the great outdoors with all its fun and challenges.
My observation is that, here in the States, this type of education is something that you choose to do, usually in the summer and you have to pay to do it. A quick Google search tells me that at the top end, you can expect to pay around $7,000 for a four week sleep away camp. That’s not to say that camp at school in NZ is free. There is usually a cost involved but there is a real effort to ensure that noone misses out and fundraising to cover costs is one of the learning experiences that becomes part of the process. And it costs nothing to go and hike a local trail!
Right…I shall now climb down off my soapbox!
Mindful of the fact that the girls might not get exposed to much camping/hiking style education at school, and also wanting it to be part of our family routine, we took the girls out for their first night under canvas a couple of weeks ago.
We stayed in a campground at Three Creeks Lake near Sisters. We’d heard there was a good walk to do which started near the campground, but we didn’t want to jeopardize the good camping vibes we’d created by suggesting a five mile hike after packing up all the gear, so we made a visit to the Sisters Coffee Company instead!
Last Sunday we headed back to Three Creeks Lake to revisit the hike that had been abandoned in favour of caffeine. It’s called the Tam McArthur Rim and it promised spectacular views of many central Oregon mountains. The day, unfortunately, wasn’t particularly clear, but the temperature was cool – good conditions for an upward hike.
We’re off to Portland on Friday to hand in all our paperwork and have a tour round the girl’s new school – apparently there is an Australian family starting too, so we won’t be the only ones with funny accents! The school registration person I spoke to was super warm and welcoming so am already feeling good about it.
Take care everyone. Thanks for all the supportive and encouraging words regarding our next adventure. It really means a huge amount to all of us to know that we have so much positive energy directed our way…please keep it coming!!
Once again it’s been weeks between posts. The days are bulleting past with so much happening in our lives – this is the third time I’ve sat down to write this and I fear it’s going to be short on words but heavy on pictures..a roundup of sorts…things we’ve been up to. Stick with me though and I promise the closing paragraph will provide the big info…what next for the Croads!
Thanks for sticking with me. Whilst all the above activity was going on, we were navigating the changes taking place because of the sale of Taura Natural Ingredients, the company Richard works for. Many of you know that the whole reason we came to Bend is because of the impending sale of the company. As our VISA’s are tied specifically to Richard’s job with Taura we weren’t sure if we’d be staying or leaving when the company sold, so we came out West to see some more of the USA just in case it was our last chance to. Shortly before the girls and I headed to NZ, we found out that a large Israeli company had bought Taura and they were very keen for Richard to stay on in his role and they were happy for him to base himself wherever in the US he liked.
Whilst we have absolutely loved Bend, travel in and out of here is tricky and as Richard is on the road a lot we needed to be somewhere that didn’t add an extra day or two in travel time to every trip. We seriously considered San Francisco, but at the end of the day we have been won over by Oregon. In many ways it reminds us a lot of New Zealand, it’s less formal and conservative than where we were on the East Coast, the people are laid back and friendly and being on the West Coast puts us much closer to home – good for us travelling back to NZ and good for visitors too…hint hint!
So the big city of Portland is to be our new home. Our focus for the last few weeks has been house hunting and after a bit of to-ing and fro-ing we have bought a new home. It’s in what is known as the Southwest Hills area, about five miles from the centre of Portland.
So in just over two weeks we will be in our new – hopefully for longer than two years – home. Olive and Edie start school the day after we move in. It’s a public school which has an excellent reputation so we are all excited about it. There are a few nerves too – on all our parts. Just because we’ve done it so often doesn’t make it any easier and in some ways moving state is a bit like moving country – new driver’s license, new taxes, new insurance – but I shall refrain from moaning!
Our other big news is that we have invested in an organic candy bar company – American friends if you see OCHO on the shelves, give it a try.
So that is all the news from us. Next couple of weeks will no doubt be a blur of packing and organizing as well as trying to make the most of beautiful Bend before we leave. It’s been a wonderful experience and we feel pretty proud of the fact that we’ve been living in each other’s pockets, with few breaks, for nearly five months and we still like each other! Please send us lots of love and positive thoughts as we embark on another big adventure!! On the Croad again!!!
I think this is the fourth attempt I have made at writing this post! To be honest it’s usually a time of struggle or challenge that keeps me away from my little corner of the world wide web, but I’m happy to report that this time it’s down to being busy…to, dare I say it, embracing the very privileged moment in time we are experiencing. When Richard first floated the idea of this ‘sabbatical’ for want of a better word, I was quick to point out all the reasons why we shouldn’t do it – those of you who know me very well won’t be surprised by that at all. Change and I are somewhat uncomfortable bedfellows.
We have now been in Bend for just over six weeks and things are going well. Of course like anything, it’s not all wine and roses – I have on more than one occasion threatened to march Olive and Edie down to the local school for the last few weeks of the academic year – but all things considered, life in Bend is suiting us pretty well.
Before we made it to Bend, we did partake in a bit of a road trip, which is what this post was meant to be about when I made my first attempt to write it a month ago! Richard made the entire drive from east to west, whilst the girls and I did a wee bit less than that. When school broke for spring break we flew to Denver and met up with Richard and the tardis, aka our car, which was crammed full with all manner of necessary items…coffee machine, five bikes (!), scarves and sunglasses to reenact iconic moment from Thelma and Louise…you get the picture. We drove straight out of Denver and headed for Moab in Utah, an amazing drive which took us into landscapes that looked completely other worldly.
Our goal in Moab was to go hiking in Arches National Park, home to over 2,000 natural stone arches, and a place that was settled over 10,000 years ago at the end of the Ice Age.
From Moab we headed to Park City, home of Robert Redford’s Sundance Film Festival. We had to pass through Salt Lake City on the way and I amused myself by counting Latter Day Saints church spires – there were a lot. (I’ve always been a bit intrigued by the Mormons. My mother used to disappear off to the Mormon church in Hataitai to do genealogical research, I was a huge fan of the show Big Love and I’ve read Jon Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven…and then there was the time my sister invited a couple of missionaries in when they came knocking on the door one day. But that’s another story!)
To be honest I was a bit underwhelmed by Park City…not a celebrity in sight! Still it wasn’t film festival time…I’m sure it’s quite the place then.
Next up was Boise, Idaho, one of those places that I’d read about or heard mentioned on tv or in movies but never in a million years expected to actually be in. We were only there overnight but were quite taken by it…had a very cool cafe which is always the mark of a good town in our book.
We rolled into Bend on a Monday afternoon and set up home in our little house on the west side. Unfortunately we woke up the next day to the news that Richard’s mother had passed away so our first official day in Bend was spent sorting flights, accommodation and rental cars and getting Richard off to the airport.
The girls and I spent the week getting to know Bend, which required numerous trips to Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods – Winchester friends will understand the great excitement at having both these stores in town! The girls even did an art class for a couple of mornings which enabled me to focus on getting my big projects finished for the two courses I was doing. Richard made it home in time for the final few hours of Olive’s birthday and we were able to start getting into the swing of life in Bend.
Owing to Richard having to head to Australia for a week and me having to get all my study complete, we didn’t properly start homeschooling until our third week in Bend. We are doing a very hybrid, make it up as you go along kind of approach! We are using the K12 online system for maths, spelling and history; blogging and corresponding with friends and family are our writing themes and, as Bend is located in an area of great volcanic significance, we are focussing on all things volcano related for science. Reading pretty much takes care of itself although I have insisted on a daily SSR time where only novels are allowed to be read – the graphic novel obsession continues unabated! PE is the easiest subject to work on – we’ve hiked, mountain biked, explored playgrounds and the girls do gymnastics twice a week, and Olive is trying out a kid’s running club this week. (In Bend you can get picked up from school by bus and taken to mountain biking class! You can guess how tough Richard is finding it to live here 🙂 I too am very happy to have found a great yoga studio and am starting each day with a 6am class. I didn’t think it would be possible to find a studio that could match Shine in Winchester but so far I’m loving it.) Olive and Edie’s foray into blogging revealed a need for speedier fingers on the keyboard so they are also doing an online typing program. We usually spend the morning working – 8:30am till 12, which leaves us the afternoon free to get outside and explore Bend’s fantastic outdoors, make trips to the library or meet up with our friends online. Or we bunk off school for a few days and head wherever Richard has to go for work – San Francisco anyone?!
We’ve decided to extend our stay in Bend and have found another place to move into at the beginning of July. Summer is the best time to be here and as everything is still a bit up in the air for us future wise, staying put for a wee bit longer feels like the right thing to do. The girls and I are making a trip back to New Zealand at the end of June…arriving in Napier on June 21st and leaving on July 6th. Olive and Edie are rather excited, Olive going so far as installing a countdown app on my phone which she diligently checks every day, “only 31 days to go Mum!”
I’d like to say a big thank you to wonderful friends and family who are supporting Olive and Edie’s letter writing. They get so excited when there is something just for them in the mailbox. Also thanks to those reading and commenting on their blogs. I suspect they are going to beat me to all the good stories! You can click here for Olive’s and here for Edie’s.
I think that’s enough for now. Once again I have written something which veers into essay-like proportions! I haven’t mentioned how hard it was to leave Winchester, how emotional it was, but I hope y’all know how special our time there was xxx
It’s Saturday night and I’m typing this from our makeshift basement come kitchen come family room. Things have started moving quickly towards getting the house back to normal. Yesterday was a big day, with a moving company depositing a storage pod on our driveway, wrapping and packing everything in the affected rooms and moving them out into the pod.
We have met the project manager who’ll be in charge of everything (great), flooring adviser (great) and on Monday we’ll talk with the kitchen designer who I am expecting will be…great! Everyone we have dealt with – from the young man at the insurance agency call centre who took my rather stressed call when we discovered the water, to the dry out/clean up crew, to the adjustor…even the trio of guys who expertly packed and moved our belongings yesterday – has been wonderful. It’s certainly made everything as stress free and painless as possible.
Watching the movers wielding their tape guns and bubble wrap rolls yesterday, did bring home to me the reality of what is ahead of us this year. I’ve alluded to big changes for us, but after a couple of pointed questions from friends(!), it’s probably time to spill the beans.
When we left Belgium we had a few regrets in terms of missed travel opportunities. While of course it’s just not possible to see everything we did feel we could have got around a bit more, and we don’t want to be saying the same thing about our time in the United States. We are very fortunate that Richard has flexibility around his work location so we want to grab that opportunity and make the most of it. Whenever Richard came back from a trip to the West Coast he was always so positive about it and made lots of comments along the lines of “I wish I could get you all out there”. Fate smiled on us when Richard mentioned to a great friend of ours here that we were looking to spend some time out west – her response, “have I got the place for you!”
She has great friends who live in a not so small town in Oregon, which goes by the wonderful name of…Bend! Years ago it was known as a logging town, but now it’s a mountain biking, skiing, kayaking, hiking, climbing, camping and golfing mecca. In late November my friend and I made a trip to Bend where we stayed with her great friends and had a wonderful weekend exploring as much of the city as we could. Our hosts were amazing, taking me everywhere, helping to set up appointments with rental companies and giving invaluable advice as to what part of town would be the best place to be in.
By the end of the weekend we’d found a great little house and I was confident that Bend would be a pretty cool place to take a bit of time out, spend some more time as a family in the outdoors and see more of the US. (From Bend we can easily get to places like Portland, Seattle, Vancouver, San Francisco…there has even been talk of Alaska!) I had a chat with the principal at Olive and Edie’s school and she had no concerns about us taking the girls out of school before the end of the academic year. We are going to attempt a spot of unschooling with maybe a bit of online school on the side. The house in Bend has been rented for three months starting at the beginning of April and hopefully this renovation won’t get in the way of that start date. We were all ready to put the house on the market after Christmas but the leak has delayed that somewhat – trusting that all will work out ok!
So there you have it – the next step in our adventure. I’m looking forward to sharing many tales from the road with you all. I’ll finish with another beautiful Bend shot…
Christmas Day in Costa Rica turned out to be very quiet and relaxed. Unfortunately both Richard and Olive had upset stomachs. Olive had discovered the maracuya, a larger and slightly more sour type of passion fruit, and I suspect her tummy was telling her “enough with the maracuya!” Being the highbrow family that we are, we couldn’t get through the day without numerous references to maracuya and poohya…I always thought girls were meant to be immune to all that toilet humor!!
On Boxing Day we went back to Ballena National Park to take a walk on the whale’s tail. It literally has the shape of a whale’s tail and is a place where humpback whales come twice a year. You can only walk on the tail when the tide is out so you have to time it right or you could get stranded.
And so the sun set on our Costa Rican adventure. Pura Vida is a phrase used a great deal in Costa Rica. Loosely translated it means the good life, living well, things are going great…perhaps even…no worries…it’s a sentiment we tried desperately to keep in mind when we arrived home late on the 29th to discover…
We spent a quiet Tuesday morning, breakfasting at a great cafe (so good we ended up eating there three times), taking in the beautiful views and watching a few locals get their downward dog on in a beachfront yoga class.
Our adventure for the day was a zip lining tour, high up in the hills near the Osa mountain village. After a very bumpy and very steep ride on the back of a truck we arrived at the start of the course…a rather high zip line stretching off into the distance. “We’ll take the kids for the first one and then they can do the rest themselves”, I was cheerily told by our instructors. Um…I don’t think so!
We spent Christmas Eve on a horse trek to the beautiful Nauyaca Waterfalls. I have to admit to being somewhat nervous as it had been a very long time since I’d been on the back of a horse and I wasn’t sure how the girls would get on. Once I’d reconciled myself to the fact that my horse had to be at the front of the pack, regardless of who she had to push out the way, or how fast she had to move to get there, I managed to relax and enjoy myself. Edie didn’t like it at all to begin with but after we’d had our first rest stop, she announced that everything was ok as she could now “communicate with horses”. Whatever she said to herself or to the horse, clearly worked because she loved every minute of the rest of the trip. Olive took to it like a duck to water and Richard, mounted on the dubiously titled “Tequila”, declared it one of the more boring activities he’d taken part in! What the…?
Another exhilarating and exhausting day. Time for a very quiet Christmas 🙂
In my previous post I did promise to write about every day of our Costa Rican adventure but in all honesty I was too whacked at the end of each fun filled day to attempt anything more than drinking a glass of wine and documenting the range of visitors that turned up in the grounds of the house after dark. I told myself I would write when we got home but, as many of you know, we arrived home to discover some pretty serious water damage…as a result my focus was somewhat diverted!
So this is my cheat’s version. I’ve been through the hundreds – I kid you not – of photos that we took, and picked what I think are the best. I won’t hit you with all fifty odd of them at once. Some today, some tomorrow and maybe some the next day. Hopefully they capture what was a wonderful holiday.
I didn’t get any photos whilst we snorkeled – Edie absolutely loved it, Olive not so much. I made the mistake of screaming out “shark!” excitedly, as a small one swam below us…and that was it…couldn’t get her back in the water. I was very impressed with both of them though. We weren’t snorkeling in the shallows near the island – they had to jump off the boat into deep water, not something I would have done at their age.
It was a great day. By the end we were all exhausted and, sad to say, somewhat sun burnt! I’m sure all our dreams that night were full of the dolphins, sea turtles, exotic fish and even the sharks we had seen…in Olive’s case, nightmare might be the more appropriate word 😦