The Graduate…

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.

It’s super hard to get Olive to dress up for anything…she could do with some tips from one of her classmates…bow tie!


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…

You try wielding a big camera and high five-ing at the same time!
Yes that is my outstretched hand being ignored…I suspect the FLASH anecdote has something to do with it…

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…

What’s not to love about a school that has karaoke on the last day!









It feels like forever since I have been here! Sorry for the big gap – things have been just a wee bit busy. Richard has been travelling lots, I’ve started a bit more volunteer work at another school plus I’m coming to the final days of my first paper – add in to that mix a little bit of house painting, Thanksgiving and a wee upcoming trip to NZ and I’m exhausted already!

We survived our trip to Disney World. We’re glad we did it but definitely will not go back. If you click on the link to my Flickr photos you can see some of the things we got up to. The highlights were catching up with friends from Belgium who moved back to the States a few months before we moved here, and being served ice cream in the Disney ice cream parlour by a young man from New Zealand! When he found out we were from Wellington his reply was, “I’m from Levin! That makes us practically cousins!” Too funny!

Richard’s off to Belgium on Sunday, arriving back home on Thanksgiving evening – I’m going to attempt to cook something festive!

And on a braggy note here’s what I managed to do this morning…

Ok so it's not me but I did a classical headstand this morning! When I started yoga I'd look at people doing headstands and say to myself "I'll never be able to do that!". Today I am eating my words!!
Ok so it’s not me but I did a classical headstand this morning! When I started yoga I’d look at people doing headstands and say to myself “I’ll never be able to do that!”. Today I am eating my words!!

Hope you are all well..we are counting down the days, hours and minutes till we get on that plane…yay!

I carry your heart with me (I carry it in my heart)…

As I write we are coming to the end of our first Valentine’s Day celebration in the United States, and celebrate we have. To be honest it is very hard not to celebrate Valentine’s Day here, surrounded as we are by so many references to it.

Even though he was in New Zealand, Richard made sure I was not forgotten by Saint Valentine.
Even though he was in New Zealand, Richard made sure I was not forgotten by Saint Valentine.

All the advertising we have seen of late has been saturated with hearts, love, flowers and cupids; many of the homes in our neighbourhood have been flying Valentine themed flags; a whole section of Target was dubbed Valentopia and filled with Valentines paraphenalia; popular candy brands released special edition Valentines candy – pink and red m and m’s, raspberry flavoured Hershey kisses; even our supermarket was overflowing with heart balloons, flower displays, enormous boxes of chocolates and valentine making kits.

Hearts were everywhere - even in Olive and Edie's hair!
Hearts were everywhere – even in Olive and Edie’s hair!

Whilst Valentine’s Day doesn’t pass by unnoticed in New Zealand, it is very much taken to a whole new level here. One of the biggest differences is the way children here really get in on the celebrations. When I was teaching I never once had my class take part in any Valentine themed activities and there was never any exchanging of Valentines. I have been out of New Zealand classrooms for some time now so things may be changing, but in American classrooms Valentine’s Day is a big deal. Both Olive and Edie had a day of treats, Valentine activities and of course the big Valentine exchange.

Despite the huge assortment of ready made Valentines for sale, I got the girls to make their own. Once again the Martha Stewart craft line came in very handy.
Despite the huge assortment of ready made Valentines for sale, I got the girls to make their own. Once again the Martha Stewart craft line came in very handy.
All sealed and ready to go - the extra big one is for Olive's teacher.
All sealed and ready to go – the extra big one is for Olive’s teacher.
Both girls took some treats to share with their classmates - could not resist these super cute cookie cutters.
Both girls took some treats to share with their classmates – could not resist these super cute cookie cutters.
All the children were encouraged to wear hearts and the colour red.
All the children were encouraged to wear hearts and the colour red.
The perfect skirt for Saint Valentine.
The perfect skirt for Saint Valentine.

I helped out at Olive’s class Valentine party in the afternoon. The children played heart bingo, listened to a traditional Valentine’s folktale and shared their Valentines with each other. They were also asked to tell the class something that they loved or really liked. There were many answers along the lines of “my bike”, “angry birds” and “my nintendo DS”, but when it came to Olive, without pausing she said, “my sister”. Had to blink a few tears away after that!

Check out our Valentine's stash!
Check out our Valentine’s stash!

And so our first American Valentine’s Day was both lovely and full of love, and even though Richard wasn’t with us in body, he was very much with us in our hearts. I’ll leave you with a quick peek at the gift I bought for him. A few lines from the beautiful poem by American poet E.E.Cummings, which my mother read at our wedding…

Happy Valentine's Day :)
Happy Valentine’s Day 🙂

PS quick quilt update if you are interested over at my How to make an American Quilt page.

Snow Bunny

I was seventeen years old when I experienced snow and skiing for the very first time. With a great deal of anxiety and trepidation, I joined my church youth group for a trip to Whakapapa in the August school holidays. Nobody in my family skied. I didn’t have any of the right gear and had to borrow a lurid yellow ski suit from a colleague of my father’s. To make matters worse my boyfriend had been skiing pretty much since he could walk. It didn’t add up to a very confident beginning.

I can assure you I looked nothing like this!
I can assure you I looked nothing like this!

Unfortunately there was not much snow on the ground when our bus pulled up at the base of the mountain. This meant that the nice flat learner’s slopes were not an option. Instead I found myself standing on a field that to me resembled the terrifying gradient of the Matterhorn. My boyfriend gave me a bit of a shove and I was off. It was horrible. Both my skis flew off, my poles disengaged themselves from my hands and went flying, and I ended up in a crumpled heap. As I lay there, humiliated, a child of about six confidently whizzed past me…on one ski! With that my foray into skiing was officially over.

Since we’ve been in Virginia we’ve been lucky to experience quite a bit of snowfall and Olive, particularly, has embraced the white powdery stuff. She has spent hours outside – sledding, building snowmen, rolling down the hill…even riding her bike in the snow. It was becoming plainly obvious that now was the time to give her a try on skis and with the help of our neighbours we were able to find a magical place to do it.

They told us about  The Homestead, a resort in the middle of the Allegheny Mountains which has been standing for nearly two hundred and fifty years.

The Homestead.
The Homestead.

This grand old hotel and spa is located in the town of Hot Springs, and has a golf course and an alpine ski resort, the oldest ski resort in Virginia. I figured if I had to face my skiing demons, this seemed like the right place to do it!

Snow was falling lightly as we arrived late on Saturday afternoon. Tea was being served in the great hall as skiers and snowboarders of all ages and descriptions returned to the hotel after a busy day on the slopes. I have to admit to feeling that sense of dread again at the sight of all that ski parephanalia, but the beauty of my surroundings completely won me over.

Pretty easy to forget my fears when this is what lay outside my bedroom window :)
Pretty easy to forget my fears when this is what lay outside my bedroom window 🙂
Looking down on the great hall where tea and cake are served every afternoon.
Looking down on the great hall where tea and cake are served every afternoon.

After a quick unpack we donned our swimsuits and made a dash for the heated outdoor pool. Steam was rising off the water as we splashed around and basked in the hot pools adjacent to the swimming pool. Very cool to be swimming outside whilst snow is falling all around you.

The rumbling of our bellies drew us inside to dinner. We avoided the fancy dining room and opted for a pop up buffet that had been set up to take pressure off the supposedly busy dining room. Someone had obviously miscalculated the need for the pop up buffet, as we were the only diners in a very huge room complete with a pianist for entertainment! The waiting staff were wonderful – we were treated like royalty – and we ended up having a great chat with one of the waiters about the state of cricket in New Zealand. He was from Jamaica and a passionate cricketer. He also produced a birthday dessert for me, complete with candle – it was very sweet.

Just us and piles of tables and chairs!
Just us and piles of tables and chairs!
The girls indulged in their new favourite cocktail - the Shirley Temple!
The girls indulged in their new favourite cocktail – the Shirley Temple!
With my special birthday treat.
With my special birthday treat.
Happy Birthday Mum!
Happy Birthday Mum!

Before retiring for the night we arranged a ski lesson for the girls and I for the following morning. I actually wasn’t planning to do any real skiing – more like just standing around and encouraging the girls when needed. But when we reached the ski lodge on Sunday morning our Kiwi-ness conspired against me. It turns out the manager of the lodge spent many years teaching skiing in Vail with a fellow instructor who was from New Zealand, and when he heard that I was planning to just butt in on the girl’s lesson, he would have none of it. Carter was summoned to take care of me for an hour or so. I’d joked with Richard in the shuttle bus on the way over that perhaps the ski instructor might be some hunky young German Hans type. In reality Carter turned out to be anything but. He was not much younger than my father; very kind, patient and funny; and prone to calling out “where is your smile Christina?” – in short he was exactly what I needed.

Olive and Edie getting ready to start their lesson.
Olive and Edie getting ready to start their lesson.
Carter and I getting acquainted.
Carter and I getting acquainted.

It was fabulous! Yes I fell over and there were quite a few scary moments but mostly it was so much fun. I felt especially chuffed when Carter said to me about half way through our lesson, “you are not being challenged enough. We need to go higher.” Richard admitted to being quite shocked when he saw us heading for the chair lift. And I don’t know if he was just saying this to humour me but Carter insisted that he rarely took first timers up that far. By the end of my lesson I was skiing upright and even managing a few turns. All in all it was the complete opposite of my first skiing experience -phew! Olive and Edie had a great time too and Richard got the chance to get a few runs in on the steeper slopes.

After the euphoria of my skiing success it was time for more swimming and a spot of ice skating, then I took a walk into the little village of Hot Springs which was very picturesque.

Heading down into the village.
Heading down into the village.
Many beautiful snow covered homes to admire.
Many beautiful snow covered homes to admire.

Dinner that night was in another old, historic building. We headed to Warm Springs where we had a great meal at the Waterwheel Restaurant. As it was Superbowl Sunday, we once again had a restaurant to ourselves and were again treated to very attentive service.

The waterwheel.
The waterwheel.

Back at the Homestead we all fell into bed and after a quick look at the Superbowl Halftime show – go Beyonce! – we all fell fast asleep. No chance of a birthday sleep in for me – the girls were so excited that they woke up very early on Monday and jumped into bed with me – not a bad way to be woken up I must admit.

It's your birthday!
It’s your birthday!

After opening my gifts and enjoying coffee and pastries in bed it was time to pack up and head for home as Richard had a plane to catch. We left very reluctantly – it had been a fabulous couple of days. Thanks to my wonderful family for ensuring that I had a great birthday celebration 🙂 And special thanks to our neighbours for giving us such a great tip.

Lots more Homestead photos if you click on my Flickr link and a short video clip of the girls in action on their skis.

Hope the return to school is going well for everyone – special shout out to my niece and nephews Molly, Matthew and Tom – all starting new schools this year. Missing you all and sending lots of love xxx

’tis the season

When we moved to the United States, I was well aware that we were in for a great deal of changes and new experiences. One of the more pressing was the inevitable raising of the bar when it comes to Christmas decor – both inside and outside the house.

It seemed that the Thanksgiving dishes had barely been cleared away and the Christmas decorations started to appear. Our first inkling of just how impressive things get around here was Olive shrieking just as it began to grow dark on Friday evening. She hadn’t fallen, had a fright or been harassed by her sister…no…she had just noticed the Christmas lights that had appeared on one of the houses across the street. Gulp! It was another one of those “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore” moments.

Every day something new has appeared and it’s not just happening in our street. All over town an array of lights, wreaths, ribbons, garlands and beloved Christmas characters are making their appearance on windows, doors, front lawns…even letterboxes.

From stately and grand (not to mention enormous!)…
to comic and fun.

To appease the girls, we have added a modest array of twinkly lights to some of our bushes. Although if I am being completely honest, I’m pretty happy to have them there! I always knew a US Christmas was going to be so much more visually than what we experienced in New Zealand and in Belgium and I’m just going to climb on and enjoy the ride. Driving into town tonight to watch the Winchester Christmas Parade – blog to follow in a couple of days – Richard narrowly missed hitting parked cars several times as our gazes were drawn to the most dazzling adornments on many of the houses. And this is only the beginning!

I’m going to try and get some more photos but getting back behind the wheel of a car does hamper one’s photographic moments. I do miss the ease at which I could pedal along, stop my bike and whip out my camera. Sigh!

You may have noticed that I’ve been tinkering with the look and layout of my blog. I hope you like it. I took the picture of the sign post pointing to America when we visited the Frontier Culture Museum some weeks back, and I knew it had to be a part of the blog. I’ve also updated a couple of the sections under the Read tab and I’ve finally posted something under the Make tab.

Take care everyone and a very special Happy Birthday to my nephew Matthew. Have a great day – we miss you xxx


Just over two weeks ago we touched down at Dulles Airport in Washington DC. One of the first things I noticed – apart from the heat – was a star spangled banner fluttering in the light breeze. I noticed several more as we located our rental car and started driving to Winchester and so I began to count. It takes about seventy five minutes to drive from Dulles to Winchester and as we reached the outskirts of the city I stopped counting. We had passed no fewer than 87 american flags!

I’m pretty sure there is a New Zealand flag flying from the top of the Beehive in down town Wellington but I’m racking my brains to think of where you would see another one, even if you did drive north of the city for seventy five minutes. Most of the flags I observed on the drive to Winchester were not positioned in front of civic buildings or large office blocks – the majority were out the front of ordinary homes. Admittedly we were in town close to the 4th of July Independence Day holiday, but I suspect that most of the flags we passed were on display year round (my American friends, please jump in and correct me if I’m wrong!).

I consider myself to be a proud kiwi – in fact I’d go so far as to say my pride has grown since moving overseas – yet I would never consider flying our flag outside my home. I’ve never donned a t shirt decorated with the southern cross or the silver fern. We do own a New Zealand flag but that was only purchased as a decoration for Olive’s children of the world birthday party. The most patriotic pieces of clothing in our house are the black t shirt emblazoned with a white kiwi that Richard bought to wear in the New York marathon, and the girls’ traditional Maori outfits.

We all know that the United States has a reputation for patriotism but seeing all those flags hammered home just how great that pride is. And it made me feel very foreign. Dorothy’s famous words seemed to reflect my feelings perfectly – “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”

Whilst I share a language with the inhabitants of our new home I do not share a culture, and I don’t say that to be negative. There will be many differences to learn about and explore, and hopefully I can share some of my culture too.

My kiwi above doesn’t look too happy does he! That’s not a reflection of how we are feeling. Whilst there is a good deal of stress and anxiety, there is also excitement and anticipation in our little family. Our mantra at the moment is most definitely “kia kaha” and we are counting on all your aroha and support as we embark on this big adventure!

Croadworks ahead!

If you’ve stumbled across this page – welcome. I’m in the process of creating a new blog about our family’s move to Winchester, VA in August 2012. Check back then to start sharing our adventures.