brave enough to start

family of five who can, should and definitely will, see more of the world

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Less than 10 weeks to go…

It’s the end of the final school term and, just like the boys, I am exhausted.  Poor Alex has been at home with a temperature and a croup-like cough all week.  I dragged him along to John’s sports day yesterday and he sat on my lap not wanting to move for hours; definitely not himself.  Emotionally, I am struggling with John finishing at Primary School. He seems to be coping much better than me although there has been the odd wobble, which is not surprising since I keep saying things like “Make the most of today, it will be your last ever Thursday at Primary School.”

Oh give it a rest already!

Katie Boag, an artist and parent at the school, has created a beautiful painting illustrating so many of the varied and wonderful experiences that the children have enjoyed over the years; a lovely keepsake which has me snivelling every time I see it. When we chose the school we had no idea of the family ethos that it embodies:  A place that welcomes parents to wander in and out all day long, any time and that, at its core, is simply a place that loves and cherishes its children in the truest sense.  I’ve commented before about how supportive the school have been about our decision to take a year away travelling with the boys and it really has made the planning so much easier but, of course, it also makes it that much harder to leave.

In other news, it looks like we have found a tenant for our house, although the paperwork is not signed yet so the superstitious voice in my head is telling me not to count those pesky chickens.  Nick has started packing boxes and now and again I go to look for something only to find it has been bubble wrapped and buried somewhere in the garage.  The list making habit I formed earlier in the year is now out of control and we have spreadsheets that seem to be out of date the minute I update them.

We had a look at booking seats on our first flight yesterday and discovered that Virgin have joined the ranks of the budget airlines and decided to charge passengers for the privilege of choosing their seats.  Not to worry, I am quite happy to be sat many rows away from the boys as I’ve no doubt, after 3 or 4 hours in the air, Virgin will be offering to pay me to sit with them!

Of course, I am joking; it is Nick’s snoring that will really have the other passengers complaining!

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The perfect Christmas?

Years ago Nick and I visited San Diego in November; the shops, in their run up to Christmas, were festively lit up and Christmas carols were playing in all the malls, songs about snow and Winter and keeping warm by the fire.  It was bizarre to us then, that the weather outside was far from frightful, in fact to your average Brit (not just those tough Northerners either, I’m including us Southern softies here too) it was beach weather.  I don’t remember doing all that much shopping; we were too busy making the most of the glorious outdoors, just hanging out by the sea.  As we caught our breath perched on a bench a (presumably) local man smiled and commented that it was just another perfect day in Southern California. We nodded politely in agreement and he continued on his way.  Wow, so many perfect days that it’s no big deal.

This time last year we had just returned home having spent Christmas in Perth, Australia; our first in the southern hemisphere. It reminded me a bit of that trip to San Diego with Christmas trees and sparkly decorations oddly juxtaposed with women in bikinis and kids eating ice creams. We noticed that it felt different; perhaps a bit less “Christmassy,” than usual but overall a great deal more relaxed. Once the kids had opened their presents we spent the morning on the beach, chatting to local families and enjoying the odd glass of something bubbly. There was no mammoth cooking session, no trying to squeeze into the oven a turkey so large that you had to start before sunrise if you wanted it cooked by lunch, we barbecued king prawns instead, and when I say “we” I mean “they” – the boys. The quintessentially English mince pie was a little tricky to get hold of (but not impossible!), and there was no point buying the kids the annual chocolate selection box as most likely it would be liquid before you got home.  All the same we had a fabulous time.

This year we have enjoyed another traditional Winter Christmas with all the things that make Christmas in England such a treat; there has been turkey and chocolates, wood fires and brisk frosty walks, more chocolates and Christmas puddings, Christmas crackers and dreadful jokes, Downton Abbey and the Queen’s Christmas message, mince pies, monopoly and more chocolates, paper hats and Bond reruns.  Did I mention the chocolate wine? (seriously, check it out:  We have spent time with family and recharged our batteries whilst being looked after by my parents who probably now need a good rest themselves.

Now I don’t want to be accused of trying to paint a rose tinted picture here so for the sake of objectivity, there has also been headaches and hangovers, indigestion and squabbles over board games.  The older boys were allowed to stay up to see in the new year which meant they slept in late the following morning and now their body clocks are more akin to children in Toronto.  They are overtired and overdosed on sugar and Nick and I are in a similar state – lethargic almost to the point of unconsciousness (possibly on account of the aforementioned chocolate wine) so getting them back into school mode in a couple of days will be something of a challenge.

In an effort to get some much needed exercise yesterday we all headed down to the local beach and watched the annual charity New Year’s Day swim. That’s right, we watched.

We have all agreed that next year we will swim.

When we are in Sydney.

Happy New Year!

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The last week of the school term is a strange one. It should be all fun and excitement as the Christmas holidays approach but after a long Autumn term we find ourselves struggling to fight off the coughs and colds that threaten to ruin the big day itself if we don’t slow down now.  The mornings are darker and getting out the door for the school run is even more of a battle than the rest of the year when my herding skills would impress even the Nativity Shepherds.  I know I must be tired because normally I can rant for England if the boys aren’t moving fast enough but today my heart was not in it.  They were a few minutes late, but they weren’t the only ones, as I, and several other sheepish parents who hadn’t factored in enough time to de-ice their cars, rocked up after the proverbial bell had gone.  Actually there are no bells at the boys’ school and today I realise how very grateful I am for that.

John and Teddy have both finished the infant school so there will be no nativity for them this year but tomorrow, if Alex is well enough, he will give us his interpretation of the frankincense third of the Magi; though I suspect what he understands is that he is carrying jelly tots for the plastic baby Jesus, who he is hoping will be good natured enough to overlook the fact that he plans to eat them en route.

Our tree went up a week ago, an annual tradition that exists very differently in my mind to it’s real life counterpart.  Before we start I always have high hopes: There will be Michael Bublé playing in the background, mulled wine warming on the hob and lots of laughing as we all have fun hanging the decorations on the tree, which by the way, is always a real tree in my idealised version.  Reality started off pretty well; we found the Michael Bublé tracks on the iPod in the kitchen where they have been since last Christmas, excellent.  From there though, things took a slight dip.  Nick, being the practical man he is, talked me out of a real tree – there was a perfectly good artificial one in the loft and given that I’ve made him go up there dozens of times lately, he wasn’t likely to forget it.  As he explained, we can get all the Christmas stuff out of the loft, save the cost of a real one for next year and then after Christmas chuck out all but the very nicest things, as storage will be limited.  So we compromise on the artificial tree.

I haven’t been organised enough to sort out mulled wine in advance so a bottle of room temperature Rioja will have to do.  Fruit wise, there is only a couple of mouldy strawberries and a bruised satsuma so I give them a miss, after a couple of glasses it won’t make any difference anyway.  Next I wanted laughter and fun but what I got was a few festively enhanced expletives as we realised we hadn’t tried to put up the tree for years and it is a right faff pulling all the branches into shape, trying to find the colour coded sections so that it goes up in the right order.  Despite trying to engage the kids in helping with the task, they lose interest long before it is finished and go back to arguing over the Playstation.  Meanwhile Michael is in the background telling us how it is beginning to look a lot like Christmas and, as Nick curses at the number of broken bulbs in the tree lights, the kids wrestle on the floor over the only nunchuck that still works and I head out to the kitchen in search of another bottle, I have to agree.

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Another month almost over, Christmas around the corner and an overwhelming sense that every so often I’m dropping a ball or two.  Poor Teddy was distraught this morning; he’d forgotten to give in the cheque to order the Christmas cards that he’d designed at school and yesterday was the last day; by the time I found the order form still in it’s envelope after breakfast, nothing could be done. There were tears and a few of them were mine.  It really doesn’t matter – we can make Christmas cards next week but I understood his disappointment – if only we could rewind the clock and set a reminder in time.

My house is a legitimate reflection of my chaotic mind at the moment.  We’ve been trying to sort through the garage and loft and so there is junk everywhere waiting to be organised – things for selling, for donating, for cleaning and repairing and so on but after a while it’s really hard to look at it without wincing.  I need a few more lists.  Today I’ll be popping to the post office to send off some books I’ve managed to sell via an online book buying company.  Most have been valued at just a few pence each but the odd one, for example a teach yourself calligraphy tutorial book of all things, has been valued at £10 – go figure!

We are having a family lunch on Sunday to celebrate Alex’s 4th birthday and madly, I’m cooking, as if I haven’t got enough to do!  He had a little party last weekend with his friends at a soft play centre and was overjoyed at finally being able to blow out some candles and hear “happy birthday” being sung for him.  The trouble is, he now thinks he is 4 and cannot make the distinction between his party last week and his birthday this week! He hasn’t noticed that he didn’t receive any cards or gifts from his family last week – all that mattered was that we were all there celebrating with him – so he thinks that was it 🙂  It’s going to be interesting explaining that he is not 5 this weekend and he won’t be having a birthday once a week from now on: It’s so confusing when you are only 3!

So there we are, that’s the current state of play; like so many other women trying to do too much, the daily challenge of keeping all those balls moving leaves me gasping for air and longing for a reprieve.  Not long now.

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According to Wikipedia (and I have no reason to doubt it, I’m just too lazy to double check the calculation myself), October 1st is the 274th day of the year, with 91 remaining until the new year.  We’re down to just double figures for 2014. In the words of Lance Corporal Jones, “Don’t Panic, don’t panic!”  and I’m not panicking. It might be due to the unseasonally warm weather, giving the impression that we are still in early Summer rather than at the start of October, or it might be the ostrich effect; I’m not entirely sure.

I’ve spent a couple of hours this morning helping out in Teddy’s class at school.  The hope is that I’ll get an idea of where he is with his school work, so that I can start thinking about how to approach road schooling all three boys.  I went along to his maths class where his lovely maths teacher started with a subtraction rap; the kids loved it.  Sadly, I am no rapper and, as such, I’m hoping there will be other tactics I can employ to demystify arithmetic otherwise dad will be in charge of numbers. That’s not a bad plan actually, given that I am more at home with words – literacy for year 3 this morning included working on non-fiction writing and thinking about describing words for different kinds of settlements – see, that’s more like it! On a serious note though, it is such a pleasure to be able to go into the classroom and spend time with the children without having to give any notice at all.  John and Teddy are so fortunate to go to such an open and welcoming school and it is one of the few hesitations I have about travelling because there is a very real risk that when we return there won’t be space for Teddy and Alex (John will be at secondary school).  I made a conscious decision to inform the school of our plans back in the Spring and, without fail, everyone has been totally supportive and positive which has made a real difference for the older boys who have been able to speak freely about the trip, helping them to get used to the idea themselves.  Of course Alex has no real understanding yet of what is going to happen; sadly he already seems to have forgotten most of our trip to Perth last year.  He is at the lovely age where he wonders everyday whether it will be his birthday this week as he knows he enjoys going to birthday parties and thinks it might be quite nice to have one of his own. Likewise, we talk about Christmas and he knows it’s exciting but can’t quite remember exactly why. Having all that gorgeous innocence with us while we’re travelling will be such a delight and I love that he helps us all to take things at face value now and again; to just enjoy the moment – we all need to work on that.

So plans are moving on.  We have spent time this week looking at exactly where we want to go in the US and trying to figure out if we need a rental car for the whole time.  Apparently Wednesdays are traditionally the cheapest day of the week to fly on, (according to Google, anyway) so in my mind I have pencilled in Wednesday 23rd September as the day we leave; the date being arrived at on account of it being half way though Nick’s holiday year and thus a final extra month’s money to add to the coffers.  At the risk of relying too heavily on Wikipedia, September 23rd is the 266th day of the year and thus we have 357 days to go.  Further crunching of the numbers reveals that there are 51 weekends until we leave and, so far, I have committed to work part or all of 24 of them.  We’ll be in Kent with mum and dad for another 10,  which leaves 17 weekends unaccounted for.

17 weekends to de-clutter, sort and sell or store all our things, redecorate the most tired rooms in our house, build a wall in the garage so that we can use the storage, finalise our plans for the first few weeks, organise insurances and find a tenant. Oh, and of course, keep the blog updated.

In the words this time of Captain Mainwaring “I think you’re entering the realms of fantasy here, Jones”

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Lists, lists, endless lists

Sadly I don’t have that British Airways napkin any more. Somewhere in the chaos of our busy lives it has been lost or thrown out, which is a shame as I feel a bit sentimental about it now.  I can’t remember all of the places that I first listed, thinking naively that a whole year would be enough to see pretty much everywhere we’d ever talked about visiting.  It turns out that the world is a bit bigger than my imagination first envisaged and a year, well, that’s a whole lot shorter. The website helps would-be travellers make realistic round the world travel plans, whatever their timescale and (theoretically, at least) whatever the budget. Having thought through your “why” (something that I’ll have to save for a later post), bootsnall suggest that you try to identify your “must sees” – those places that are key to your travel experience. I suspect my original list contained must sees on 5 continents and involved a lot of back tracking so that we were always in each place at the most beautiful time.  It didn’t take long to realise that such a relentless pace of travel was never going to bring us the relaxed and enjoyable family bonding experience that I’d been romanticizing.

Anyway, the must sees, as of today, include:

1) Boston in the fall. This one is an absolute priority for me. Nick has been to New England before with work but it will be a first for me and the boys. They are all excited about seeing the home of the New England Patriots and I can’t wait to see the colours; I’m imagining something close to the glider scenes from the remake of The Thomas Crown Affair!

2) The Canadian. Whimsical notions of an Orient Express style trip across the continent enjoying leisurely dinners, whilst the children behave impeccably as they delight at the sight of the Canadian wildlife….Or, more realistically, a four day train trip, squeezed into the cheapest available seats where the calls of “are we nearly there yet?” are only punctuated with “I don’t care if there is another moose”…

3) New Zealand in the Summer.  The idea is a camper van taking about 6 weeks to drive across both islands.

4) Japan for cherry blossom.  Nick and I lived in Osaka for almost two and a half years, a decade ago.  John was born there and we have since been back with both John and Teddy but neither remember the trip.  We are really excited to see the country we enjoyed so much all over again through the eyes of our children.  Living abroad undoubtedly changed the way we think about things and what we want to do with our lives; including introducing our children to the benefits of travel and we hope that the boys will experience the same joy we did when they discover more about Japanese life and culture.

5) Borneo for the Orangutans.  This one is a bucket list item; something I’ve wanted to do since the first time Nick and I visited Gerald Durrell’s zoo on Jersey over twenty years ago. Sadly there may not be many more generations who have the opportunity to see these majestic men of the forest and educating our boys in the importance of conservation is justification enough for us to go.

So there we have it – our big 5, as it were.  Within each stage of the trip there are more lists and before we can set off there is a to-do list which is so long I’m actually frightened to write it down.  Over the next few months the big priorities include sorting and reducing all the junk in our house, further investigating accommodation options for the first leg of the trip and trying to decide if we’ll opt for a “round the world” flight ticket or whether it will make more sense to buy individual flights…

Lots to do!

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This time next year

On a flight home from Gibraltar in May 2013 Teddy, our middle son, asked an innocent question: “Why do we have to go home now?”  The question coming because Nanny and Grandad had waived us off at Gibraltar airport and had another week in the sunshine ahead of them. I answered without thinking “Because, Teddy, you have to go back to school on Monday.”

The words seemed to linger in the air longer than expected.  And inside my head the sentence continued “or do you?”  I scribbled a note to Nick who was sitting with the younger boys on the row behind – Wouldn’t it be great if we could just take the boys out of school for a whole year and travel with them?!   I don’t remember exactly what he replied but by the end of that short flight home, I had a brief itinerary of all the places we could see with a year to travel, mapped out on the back of a British Airways napkin.

Excitement built over the next few weeks as I googled every example of extended family travel that I could find, delighted to uncover families who felt as we do but who had been brave enough to start. In the evenings I pored through their blogs and websites reading about how their experiences were changing them as people and tightening their bonds as families.

In the back of our minds all the usual objections and hesitations rumbled: What about the children’s education? What about our jobs? How will we pay for it? What about our house, our possessions, our commitments? But not once have I ever thought that those challenges would be insurmountable.  Some of the answers took months to come as we talked, planned, mulled things over, revised and changed our plans until we found solutions that felt right for us.  Even now, with a year to go, I still don’t have all the answers but, perhaps unexpectedly for me, I’m not worried.

So here we are in September 2014, with solid plans to leave in September 2015 for 10-11 months, if our budget allows. One conclusion that all the thinking and planning has led me to so far, is that this blog is important. It serves many purposes: Firstly I want to be able to look back and remind myself of how we felt when the whole adventure was still ahead of us, which is why I am starting now. Our children will still be quite young when we leave; John will be 10, Teddy will be 8 and Alex, just 4, so this blog is also for them; a record of the year we spent all together.  For me, writing is the next best thing to talking and, if I’m honest, I do far too much of both! So it might be that I use the blog to think through the options occasionally and if I’m lucky, there might be one or two people who read it now and again who can help with any dilemmas or difficult choices we might face.

Tomorrow I’ll fill you in on the itinerary, which, if all goes to plan, will begin on or about 24th September 2015.  365 days and counting; I can’t wait!