Ice Ice Baby

We made it back safely to icy cold Virginia. As always, New Zealand, our family and friends, were hard to leave, and for the first time in all our comings and goings, Olive was very upset to be leaving 😦 Expat life has so many wonderful opportunities but also lots of challenges, of which the goodbyes would be the biggest!

So trying not to wallow in the post-holiday blues, we braved the cold on Sunday and made the short drive south east to Manassas. We’d heard about a skating rink housed in an outdoor pavilion – sounded like just the thing to lift our spirits.

We were the first to arrive and for a while had the rink all to ourselves.
We were the first to arrive and for a while had the rink all to ourselves.
Frosty the snowman was waiting for us.
Frosty the snowman was waiting for us.

This was our third attempt at ice skating and for Edie her first time going solo. It was heaps of fun and we enjoyed watching all the ‘professional’ skaters who turned up with their own skates. Very impressive.

Skater girls.
Skater girls.
Look at me go!
Look at me go!
Ice princess.
Ice princess.

So now it is back to reality and routine. The girls made it back to school for one day and then it was cancelled due to the extreme cold! Hopefully things will be back to normal tomorrow.

Thanks to all our family and friends for their hospitality and love. The fact that leaving is so difficult is a testament to all the wonderful relationships we have in New Zealand so in a funny way it’s positive too – well, that’s how I’m going to look at it!

Happy new year everyone! Wishing you a great year ahead!

Spooky Sunday

Richard spent much of Sunday playing with his new mountain biking mates, so the girls and I indulged in a little playing of our own. We spent the morning driving around Winchester capturing some of the Halloween props, decorations and displays that have been popping up all over the city.

Here’s a wee taste for you…if you click on the photo you will see a bigger version…

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Olive and Edie are very excited about Halloween this Thursday – but are even more excited about what we are going to be doing on Friday. Exactly three years ago this Friday we left New Zealand on the start of our big overseas adventure. We broke the journey to Belgium with a stop in Hong Kong where we visited Disneyland. So on Friday history is going to repeat itself somewhat – we are heading to Orlando, Florida…home of…Disneyworld! Say tuned for much Micky Mouse madness!!

Baby you were born to run…

I was never a sporty child. My leisure time was split fairly evenly between reading books and watching television – my Mother would go so far as to say I was a tv addict. Captain Caveman, Hong Kong Phooey, Atom Ant, The Mickey Mouse Club and Scooby Doo were all a huge part of my early years. I balanced all  those American cartoon shows with a good helping of those great quality children’s shows that they just don’t seem to make any more – The Pheonix and the Carpet, Ballet Shoes and New Zealand’s own unsurpassed children’s series, Under The Mountain. ( I still can’t hear the name Wilberforce without shuddering!)

250px-Scooby-gang-1969Under the Mountain 2220px-Balletshoestv

When we moved from Wellington to Hastings in the early 1980’s, I was appalled to discover that at school in the provinces one was required to partake in an alarming amount of cross country running. Every afternoon we’d be ushered out onto the not insubstantial field and made to run three to four circuits. The teacher would stand out in the middle of the field and shout at those who walked – me – or those who dared to cut corners. There was never any actual teaching about how to run, how to get started if you’ve never done it before or how to combine running and walking to build up your endurance. I hated it. Those daily sessions left me feeling useless and like there was something wrong with me. My worst moment was in Form Two – that would be year 8 in modern school lingo – when my teacher used to write the fastest time on the chalkboard and underneath it the slowest time. No surprises who was the owner of the slowest time in the class 😦 I’ll never forgive Miss Hamilton for that.

As I grew I began to get much more interested in physical activity and by the time I left university I was a regular gym goer. Step classes, Body Pump, Body Combat and Body Balance all became activities that I regularly enjoyed and yet, I often looked wistfully at people running and thought “if only I could do that”.

I used to look just like this when I did Body Combat..really!
I used to look just like this when I did Body Combat..really!

My enjoyment and interest in exercise and fitness continued to grow when I met and married Action Man. One of the things we loved to do was go for big walks all over Wellington’s hills and when we moved to Wadestown we had the very hilly town belt right on our back doorstep. When Olive came along she’d join us on our ramblings – tucked snugly into the front pack or surveying the scene from on high in the backpack once she got a bit older.

Richard "Action Man" Croad
“Will you take this Action Man?”

One of our routes used to end in a short but very steep climb. As we tackled this climb one afternoon, a runner bounded passed us, seeming to float all the way to the top. I turned to Richard and said, “I could never do that” to which he replied, with a smile, “yes you could”.

And with those three words so began my running renaissance. Miss Hamilton be damned – I was going to run! Slowly but surely I progressed from tiny amounts of running interspersed with big amounts of walking, to being able to jog up that infamous hill. I was never very fast but I got to the point where I could run ten kilometres. I’d signed up to do a 10k race – my first official running race – and promptly fell victim to the overuse injury achilles tendinitis. I dutifully took myself to see a physiotherapist and one of the first things she said to me was “I hate running. Have you noticed that runners never have a smile on their face?” I think she was Miss Hamilton reincarnated.

I laid off the running until we moved to Belgium and it was there, on the incredibly flat streets of Antwerp, that – shock, horror – I discovered that I actually prefer a more hilly terrain to the not-a-hint-of-a-gradient-anywhere that one finds in the lowlands. It was relief to see a nice amount of undulating terrain in and around our new neighbourhood when we moved to the US. One of the reasons that I like to run is that it definitely helps me to handle whatever life is throwing my way, and when we arrived in Winchester last October, life was pelting me with a whole lot of stress. So I dug out my MP3 player, dusted off my sneakers and downloaded the wonderful First Day to 5k programme. And this time, I was determined to take part in a race at the end of it.

So fast forward to last Saturday morning and there I was lined up at the start of the Girls on the Run 5k. Girls on the Run is a nationwide organisation that runs after school training programmes for girls which culminate in a 5k event. The idea is that hopefully the girls will develop lifelong habits around health and fitness, build their confidence, make friends and achieve a challenging goal. It is exactly the sort of programme that would have done wonders for the fatigued and despondent ten year old me, and so I thought it an excellent choice for my first event.

Before the start - not nervous at all - yeah right!
Before the start – not nervous at all – yeah right!
About thirty seconds into the race - perhaps the champion arms are a bit premature!
About thirty seconds into the race – perhaps the champion arms are a bit premature!
About halfway...puff, puff, puff...
About halfway…puff, puff, puff…
Olive helped me make it to the finish line :)
Olive helped me make it to the finish line 🙂

It was hard but it was great. Watching all those young girls running with their dads or mums or a buddy who signed up to run with them, was lovely. Each girl’s bib bore the number 1 and there was huge vocal support for every one of them – even me – when they made it across the line. As it was an event aimed at encouragement and participation, no official times were measured – which means I am going to have to do another 5k event so I can have an official time.

Here’s to all those amazing girls who took part on Saturday, and to all their supporters. Thanks for letting this old girl join you.

PS I can’t claim all the Croad family running glory. That afternoon we got in the car and drove to Fredericksburg, where action man ran the Marine Corps Historic Half Marathon. Thanks to him for saying ,”you could do that”.

Take care everyone. Missing you and sending all our love xxx

Seven up…

At long last it was April the 13th and Olive turned seven. I could write a whole essay on how quickly those seven years have passed  but I know all you parents out there get it. In the blink of an eye you go from cradling a wriggling squawking newborn  to watching a beautiful and confident young girl taking on the world.

The smile of a newly minted seven year old.
The smile of a newly minted seven year old.
Birthday love from little sis.
Birthday love from little sis.
There were many lovely gifts for the birthday girl - some had travelled all the way from New Zealand.
There were many lovely gifts for the birthday girl – some had travelled all the way from New Zealand.
Edie wanted to give Olive something handmade so we made an art satchel for her - you can read more about it on my make page.
Edie wanted to give Olive something handmade so we made an art satchel for her – you can read more about it on my make page.
Dad set up a treasure hunt for the big present. The girls had great fun deciphering the clues.
Dad set up a treasure hunt for the big present. The girls had great fun deciphering the clues.
After being instructed to put on her helmet, Olive was lead to this gift - her own camelbak...mmm...wonder what the big present might be?
After being instructed to put on her helmet, Olive was lead to this gift – her own camelbak…mmm…wonder what the big present might be?
Scouring the garden for more clues.
Scouring the garden for more clues.
A mountain bike! Not hard to guess who was in charge of that surprise!
A mountain bike! Not hard to guess who was in charge of that surprise!

Like Edie, Olive chose to celebrate with her friends at the gymnastics club where the girls have been taking lessons. It was a great afternoon – lots of fun for the children and minimum effort for Mum and Dad 🙂

Diving under the parachute.
Diving under the parachute.
Bouncing around with Edie.
Bouncing around with Edie.
Beam action.
Beam action.
Flying into the pit.
Flying into the pit.
Edie took flight too.
Edie took flight too.
Woo hoo!
Woo hoo!
Blowing out the candles on a very simple cake - all Olive asked for were the colours of the upcoming apple blossom festival - pink and green.
Blowing out the candles on a very simple cake – all Olive asked for were the colours of the upcoming apple blossom festival – pink and green.

It was a very special day – Olive proclaimed it the “best birthday ever” – but she says that every year!

Two years old...
Happy Birthday Olive! Here’s to the next seven years xxx

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.

It’s not the years in your life that count – it’s the life in your years…

It was Abraham Lincoln to whom we can attribute the words above, and they are inscribed on the front of the card I gave to Richard for his birthday on Saturday.

Happy Birthday Papa!
Happy Birthday Papa!

One of the things that so attracted me to Richard when we were first getting to know each other, was his approach to life – how I felt he was very much “living” it rather than just going through the motions. I believe this is one of the reasons why people are often surprised when they find out how “old” Richard actually is. His energy, vigour and enthusiasm for life, belie those commonly held conceptions about ageing and how one is supposed to be at a certain age.

The video camera that one can be mounted on one's mountain bike handlebars, or strapped to one's helmet, seems to have gone down well :)
The video camera that can be mounted on one’s mountain bike handlebars, or strapped to one’s helmet, seems to have gone down well 🙂

Not long after we began our relationship, we went to listen to the author Alice Sebold, author of The Lovely Bones, which we had both read and enjoyed. I bought Richard a copy of the book and asked Alice Sebold to sign it. With no prompting from me she wrote “Viva!” – live! We chose the name for our first born within weeks of finding out I was pregnant. Whilst we love that Olive is not only a botanical name, but also a symbol of peace…we also love that in it lies viva, vivre, leven, vivere, ora…however you choose to say it – live!

Olive and Edie painted canvases for Richard to take to work and hang in his office.
Olive and Edie painted canvases for Richard to take to work and hang in his office.
They were even more popular than the video camera!
They were even more popular than the video camera!

So here’s to living and here’s to you Richard. Happy Birthday!

Nine candles because 5+4=9 :)
Nine candles because 5+4=9 🙂
The girls can always be relied upon to help out with this part.
The girls can always be relied upon to help out with this part.
You can read more about this cake on my "Eat" page.
You can read more about this cake on my “Eat” page.

Thanks for filling my life with so much love and laughter, for inspiring me to live my life to the fullest, for being such a wonderful father to Olive and Edie (yes I know – live in one name and die in the other – completely unintentional of course!) and for always saying “you’ll feel so much better if you do it” when I am talking myself out of going for a run!

My life is all the better for having you in it xxx

 

PS a wee quilt update on my American Quilt page if you are interested.

Welcome

Just over three weeks ago we touched down at Dulles airport in Washington DC. It was dark and late and we were all pretty shattered. After a very long wait at immigration our shiny new visas got the once over and as Non Resident Aliens – gotta love that label- we  took our first steps towards our new life. Richard’s steps were actually more of a sprint as he had to get to the rental car company before it closed it’s doors. Let’s just say it was one of those made it by the skin of his teeth situations. We all piled into the behemoth vehicle that was to be our car for the next wee while – I was already having nightmares at the thought of having to drive something so enormous, let alone on the wrong side of the road. We hit the road to Winchester and by midnight were browsing the frozen food aisles at Martin’s (our new supermarket) in search of pizza. And so our first meal in our new home was eaten out of a cardboard box whilst we were surrounded by cardboard boxes waiting to be unpacked.

Three weeks later there are still unopened boxes but we are slowly starting to make our new house feel like home. And we have been very warmly welcomed wherever we’ve gone. Towards the end of our first day we met our neighbors who as luck would have it, have a seven year old daughter who had heard all about the two girls coming to live next door and was very excited to meet them. Olive started school at John Kerr Elementary on our second day. She was so excited that she was prepared to get on the school bus by herself but I of course was having none of that. We took her to the bus stop – metres from our house – so she could meet the driver and see what happened, then we drove her up to school. There she received a rapturous welcome from the principal and all the office staff, “Oh Miss Olive, we’ve been waiting and waiting for you to come. How y’all doing?” You need to imagine the southern accent that accompanied this – it’s very warm and inviting. I accompanied Olive to her class and met her teacher, she was swamped by all the children – only 15 of them – and she barely batted an eyelid when I said I was leaving. She rode the yellow bus home that day, absolutely thrilled by everything that had happened. Edie started Apple Valley Montessori the following week. (Cultural note – apples are very important to Winchester and lots of things have apple in the title.) We were also very warmly welcomed there. So much so that they rang a few days before Edie started and asked if she could please come down and be included in the class photo that was being taken – “she’s part of our class and we must have her in the photo”.

I’ve also been very warmly welcomed to the neighborhood. Our neighbor, whose daughter is now BFF’s with Olive and Edie, had me over for coffee and yesterday took me out for coffee with two other women from our street. Two other women from the street around the corner knocked at the front door one afternoon with wine from Australia and chocolates from Belgium. The real estate agent who helped us find our home hosted a party to welcome several new families to the neighborhood and we got to meet new and longtime residents of Winchester. And we have been Boo’d – read on – the boo story gives a good insight into the spirit of our new neighborhood.

Around eight o’clock one night the doorbell rang. Surprised to hear it ring in the evening, I opened the door to find nobody there. Looking down I saw…

Mmmmmm – this looks very interesting.

I got the girls out of bed and together we investigated the contents of the mysterious pumpkin bag.

First we found this letter explaining everything we needed to know about being boo’d. Basically under the cover of darkness you need to leave a treat for one of your neighbors on their doorstep – the goal being to get everyone in the neighborhood boo’d by Halloween.

The most important part of the task was putting the phantom in our window so subsequent booers would know that we’d already had a visit.

Ok everybody. We’ve been boo’d!

The it was time to explore the contents of the pumpkin bag.

Check out our loot. Halloween decorations, Martha Stewart Halloween crafts, stickers and of course candy!

The next day after school the girls and I roamed the aisles at Target collecting goodies to pass on to one of our neighbors. Fortunately their BFF next door hadn’t been hit by the phantom so it was an easy choice as to which house to pick.

I could write pages about the preparations for Halloween that we are observing. the displays and decorations in some of the front yards are amazing. I’m hoping to get out with my camera to capture them before Halloween is over – the definite down side of being in a car as opposed to being on my bike – less photo opportunities!

I’m going to stop there as I’ve been very aware that it’s taken me so long to start writing about our experiences here and I wanted to get something up tonight. So much has happened in three weeks that I could go on writing all night. Just know that we are all doing okay – the girls in fact are thriving. Richard is super busy – he’s in Belgium this week – but very much enjoying his work. As for me I find myself often humming or singing the lines from that wonderful song by Mr Gordon Sumner or as we all know and love him, Sting. “I’m an alien. I’m a legal alien. I’m an Englishman in New York”. Okay so I’m not an Englishman and I’m not, unfortunately (!) in New York but I do relate to the sentiment. I do feel very alien and it’s tempting to try and make myself try and be like everyone else. Then I remember the other lines in the song “be yourself no matter what they say”. And that is where I will leave you…doing my very best to be myself!

Love hugs and kisses to you all. Especially to my new nephew Alfie. We miss you all terribly xxx