Good things come to those who wait

Will they ever get used?

Will they ever get used?

When deciding on our next family adventure and weighing up the options, the children’s opinions obviously always mattered and were going to play a big part in our decision making. When going to the UK became a serious option it was obvious that this was a popular choice for both my two oldest kids for a number of reasons and top of that list of reasons was that they really wanted to see, feel and enjoy snow.  For the last 2 months I have been telling them both that snow is unlikely and that it may only happen once a year if that.  They all got a plastic sledge each from Santa (grandma) for Christmas, wrapped up in black bin bags (Santa doesn’t seem to do large wrapping paper?), and momentarily used on the living room floor as they tried to imagine what it would be like to use them but not knowing when.  Little did we all know that they would be in full action less than from 48 hours from then.

It's real snow!

It’s real snow!

We were driving back from the sales as the light was fading late on the 26th. In the car headlights large flakes of snow began to glide through the beams and we all shouted out that it was snowing!  It got denser as we drove home, a lot like going into ‘hyper-drive‘ on the Millennium Falcon (apparently).  The kids were desperate to get outside and to feel the snow and as soon as we parked up the car they pulled on their winter coats and dived into grandma’s backyard to adsorb the new experience.

One happy snowman

One happy snowman

I explained to the kids (and my wife, who was just as excited) that the snow may not last for long and can soon thaw and turn to a brown slush, especially if it rains overnight. Even though it was now night time we decided to make the most of the opportunity and had our first family snowball fight, making sure a few snowballs also found their way through grandma’s front door at the same time!  The snow was settling and the conditions perfect to build a snowman.  I showed Jonah how to start with a small lump of snow at the top of the road and then roll it down the hill, “this is perfect rolling snow Jonah” – constantly flipping it over as it increased in size and trying to maintain a rounded shape.  I worked on his body and Jonah made his first ever snowman head.  We added some small stones for eyes, his mouth and buttons, and of course gave him a carrot for his nose.  The garden bush was hacked for some arms and a forgiving grandma donated an old scarf and hat for him to wear. The finishing touch was an empty can of Guinness which had helped keep dad warm through the activity and we both thought the snowman would appreciate (the idea of) it – hence his larger than life smile, he had waited a long time.

Even a snowman needs a friend

Even a snowman needs a friend

Before going back indoors and facing the not so pleasurable new experience of very cold toes and feet meeting a hot steaming bath, we decided to leave the snowman with a small friend to keep him company throughout the night.  Pleased with our spontaneous fun and achievements in the snow, we looked forward to a content sleep – the type you always seem to have after being active outdoors and in challenging weather conditions.  The only concern on the kid’s minds was if the snowmen would still be there in the morning.  They peeked out of the upstairs bedroom window every time they passed it informing the household “the snowmen are still there!

They're still there dad!

They’re still there dad!

Is there anything better than waking up to find the world covered in a crisp blanket of dazzling snow with clear blue skies and a sparkling winter sun?  Seeing your two special snowmen friends smiling up at you and coaxing you out to play?  Knowing there are three brand new shiny plastic sledges in the shed that are going to be christened today?  Plastic bags in between double layers of socks, thermos flasks filled and rations packed away, we are all ready for a full day of family sledging for the first time. There can’t be many better days than this, they are definitely worth the wait.

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What shall we do today?

Can we ride on the beach in England dad?

Can we ride on the beach in England dad?

Last weekend as I was compiling my list of important things to do I set myself a back-up target of getting the bikes out (now arrived safely with 90 other plus boxes) and reassembled ready for an unlikely family bike ride in the next 6 months or so.  To be fair though the weather has been great since returning home and although the temperature is obviously a lot colder we have seen and enjoyed plenty of sunshine and such was the case the Sunday just gone.

The Ribble salt marshes

The Ribble salt marshes

As soon as the bikes were ready the kids were on them like a flash, woolly hats over their helmets!  They had obviously missed their bikes the last 6 weeks and I hadn’t realised how much.  They were out in the back street riding up and down and amazed at the lack of sweat being generated but anxious to pull their sleeves down over their quickly numbing fingers.  Provocatively I suggested that we go for a bike ride and much to my surprise they both agreed.  So we set off across two busy roads (another novelty to them getting off their bikes and pushing them across a road) and onto the promenade at St. Annes thinking we could ride along the beach but soon realised nobody else was and that push bikes and soft English sand don’t work too well together.  So we pushed our bikes back up to the main promenade and decided to take on the pedestrians heading towards Lytham with the sun shining on our faces.

The Lytham St. Annes spitfire

The Lytham St. Annes spitfire

Sometimes you (well I do) think things are not worth the hassle and it is easier to keep things simple.  Unpack the bikes in the summer, leave them in the garage and worry about fixing them then when they will be most needed.  Do the shopping today, clean the house, get the kids homework done and put them in front of the TV.  How many times do we fall into that trap and what are we missing out on?  The last Sunday in November and it was an amazing afternoon to be out on our bikes, in fact everyone seemed to be out and it was great weaving in and out of people walking off their Sunday roasts. We made a point of saying ‘hello’ to our new neighbours as we passed them and a ‘thank you’ for making way at the same time taking in the new sights and points of interest of our new home, community and environment.

Not as hot as Thailand but still need a rest

Not as hot as Thailand but still need a rest

The Lytham Windmill

The Lytham Windmill

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Story of Stuff to-do-list

The Story of Stuff to-do-list

One of my favourite Tweets that I read and decided to re-tweet this week was from The Story of Stuff a website that I have actually written about before. What I love about this Tweet is the simplicity of the to-do-list but the effectiveness of how powerful the outcomes are from doing it.  We sometimes take these activities, opportunities and outcomes for granted and almost always, from my experience, gain and discover a lot more (the value-added) than we ever imagined by getting up and outdoors and doing them.  A 10km bike ride got nowhere near my original to-do-list last weekend let alone at the top up amongst: Tesco shop, clean the bathrooms, find the bathroom scales in the shipping boxes, research electricity provider rates, Christmas decorations, etc… but I am so glad that impulse plus a bit of sunshine found a way and that I was reminded of the important things to be included at the top of any to-do-list.

The gap effect

Challenged with a sense of personal adventure

Challenged with a sense of personal adventure

Post contributed by Dan Bowie

Just thought I’d update you on my latest exciting news! Today I found out I got the QUEST Scholarship – sponsored by VINCI.  It’s an amazing opportunity not many get to experience and to say I’m pleased is an understatement. Sheffield University seems to be a bit of a hot spot for successful candidates so – as I’m sure you can imagine – a few celebratory drinks will be had!
There is a teacher in everyone

There is a teacher in everyone

I want to take the opportunity to say thanks, the experience I gained in Thailand is without a doubt the reason I got in – especially when I look at the high standard of unsuccessful applicants. Accepting me into the Gap Programme was a stepping stone that has (and will continue to) lead to so many amazing opportunities. So thanks to all who supported me at the school.
Trekking in the north of Thailand

Trekking in the north of Thailand

Uni life is very good, the course is fairly intense and I’ve already handed in coursework and completed online tests that count towards my 1st year grade, which is a little surreal.  The social side is definitely a change from Thailand, but a change I am very much liking. I have joined the hockey team and this of course means socials (and some hockey!).  I will keep you posted.

If you liked this post then read more about gap year experiences here.

One Man and a Piano

Expressing the artist in you

Expressing the artist in you

I was at the airport again today and had the pleasure to listen to a young man playing one of those ‘play me’ pianos in the public waiting area.  We had sat down to eat our packed lunch and placed ourselves next to the piano and talented pianist to enjoy the music whilst we ate.

Play me

Play me

Zoe immediately took her sandwich over to the piano and had a good look at what the man was doing.  She even started to move to the hypnotic tones of the jazz tunes being played.  I watched and wondered who first thought of this idea of placing pianos in public places for anyone to play?  The more I thought about it the more I loved the concept and continued watching to see what impact our pianist would have on other strangers in the waiting hall.

 

An American admirer

An American admirer

As I watched and also monitored Zoe, making sure that her busy fingers didn’t add any unwanted notes to a potential masterpiece, an American lady sidled up to the pianist and introduced herself.  She was quite animated and confident in her approach, immediately acknowledging the skills and passion of our pianist.  They struck up a common theme and chatted for a while, name cards were even swapped.  Meanwhile my oldest son had joined Zoe and the two of them had commandeered the piano as the two strangers were making plans.  I continued watching them talk at the same time cringing at the dreadful din being bashed out on the piano by Zoe and Jonah thinking I must intervene soon and save everyone from the terrible noise. Luckily the American lady suddenly shot off and the pianist re-focused his attention on the piano and set about on my two.

Twinkle Twinkle number

Twinkle Twinkle number

He asked them if they could play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and to my surprise Jonah started to play the favourite nursery rhyme. The pianist motioned Jonah to play a few octaves higher and then started to accompany him with a funky jazz bass version.  Suddenly my son was playing a Twinkle Twinkle duet with a random stranger and making heads turn in one of the busiest airport terminals in the world.

Patrick and a piano

Patrick and a piano

Isn’t it amazing how music and artistic expression and enthusiasm connects people. We only planned to be in the airport for a short while and never imagined meeting someone like Patrick – how do you plan for something like that – you don’t (but always look out for the opportunities).  I asked Patrick where he was going and what time his flight was.  He told me he wasn’t going anywhere, so I asked him if he was on his work break and if he did this everyday when he had the chance.  He said no, and that he had just seen his Japanese friend off and decided to hang around and the play piano for a couple hours.  We said a big thank you and good bye to Patrick and wished him all the best with his future plans (he is starting a film business).  We walked out of Heathrow Airport for the second time in one week but this time refreshed from the positiveness of personal connectivity and social interaction and privileged that we had met Patrick, the piano player.

If I do not see you again, hello

Take time to say hello - S. Bruce-Lockhart

Take time to say hello – S. Bruce-Lockhart

We hear it all the time, the world is changing rapidly and we have to be prepared to adapt to that change.  Education is (should be) all about preparing our future leaders for change and to be able to not only cope with change but to be the change-makers themselves by having the relevant life skills and confidence to use them.  You can never be 100% sure what is going to happen and therefore that temptation into a comfort zone is potentially a dangerous place to be found in for too long.  Many people have asked us why we are leaving Thailand; leaving our home, leaving jobs that we both loved, leaving ‘paradise’?  Of course it was a big and courageous decision to make but one that we have never regretted since making it back in late 2013.  We knew it was the right time for a change and we were prepared to take on the unknown factors that this change would throw our way and to learn from them.  Deep down we always knew the hardest factor would be saying goodbye, something I have never really been particularly good at.  I like to think I will always see people again and continue where we left off but maybe that is just dodging the truth and taking the easy way out of a hard goodbye.  I follow the blog of a well respected and experienced headmaster of a Round Square school in Canada, Mr. Simon Bruce-Lockhart, and really enjoyed reading one of his posts in particular regarding saying goodbye – the post is titled: Take Time to Say Goodbye.  

People handle goodbyes in many different ways and approach it with different attitudes, sometime gifts are exchanged as a sentimental representation of time spent together or as a message to take with you into your next adventure.

A sentimental suitcase

A sentimental suitcase

When I left the UK in August 1999 I was given a brand new suitcase by my friends with whom I had played local village cricket with for many years.  It was a complete surprise to me that these ‘lads’ had put some thought into a gift which I had never expected from them.  15 years ago it was a top of the range suitcase and perfect for packing my few possessions to take with me to Thailand for the next two years.  The sentimental feelings are just as strong as I pack it full of family possessions for our return trip to the UK tomorrow.  It has served me well and I am pleased it is coming home with us.

Not in the UK!

Not in the UK!

I have found it interesting how attached I have become to some of the material things that we have owned.  Part of this transition process has meant selling our cars and of course leaving our family home.  I am not really a car person but have had a couple of (brief) sentimental moments when finally handing both cars over to their new owners and realising that there will be no more family adventures in them.  Thousands of kilometers of nursery rhyme CDs, playing eye spy, making up awful jokes, tantrums, arguments, tears and laughter all confined in a metallic cube – gone!  It’s not like I am ever going to own a pick-up in the UK – and let the kids ride in the back is it?

The power of a stone (next to our zebra - which we are leaving behind!)

The power of a stone (next to our zebra – which we are leaving behind!)

As a teacher I always tell my students (when they ask me) that I don’t have favourites – but if I did have a favourite class then the class I taught Geography through Year 7 to Year 11 would have to be one of them.  I also taught many of these students ICT (well they actually taught me!) as well in Year 5 and Year 6. When it came to their graduation and leaving the school they presented me with a rock, knowing that I like rocks and talked about them quite often in my classes with a certain amount of passion. Each student had signed the rock and they were very pleased with themselves when they presented it to me and told me to take good care of it.  It was an effective way to say goodbye and to acknowledge what we had learnt and been through together – it had real meaning.  I have of course kept the rock ever since in my office at home and just realised the other day that it did not make the packing with the 91 boxes of shipping.  For a split second I though this cannot go to the UK, it is just a rock, but the emotional attachment and meaning soon came bursting out of me and I placed it in a suitcase ready to be packed.

One of the students in that Geography class sent me a poem the other day as part of her Global Citizenship reflection.  Her father saw it when visiting Japan and had sent her the translation.  Even though I have not seen this student since she left school over six years ago, we still say ‘hello’ to each other whenever we can and share our thoughts and ideas about the world.  I thought it was very poignant to receive this poem at a time of big transition and occasionally stress and anxiety for me and my family.  The hardest thing about change is the unknown and saying goodbye to the familiar.  Tomorrow is a the biggest day for our family so far and I am sure it will be a roller coaster ride of emotions but I also know it is going to be the best day.  If I do not see you again, ‘hello.’

Each day is the best day

Whether it rains
Whether it shines
Each day is the best day
Whether I cry
Whether I laugh
Today is the very best day
Because it is a precious day out of my life

-Mitsuo Aida

Thailand Reflections

Tan the motorbike taxi driver

Tan the friendly motorbike taxi driver

They often say that you won’t live anywhere better in the world as an expat than in Thailand, the Land of Smiles.  Having now lived and worked here for over 15 years I have definitely seen many people come and go, such is the transient nature of the expat and especially international teachers.  One thing that I have noticed is that people do usually return to Thailand, whether it is to visit friends, to holiday or to work again.  I had no idea what was in store for me or what to expect from the Thai people, their culture and their kingdom when I first left for Thailand in 1999.  I know that we will return, Thailand is our home, the place where I got married and also where my three children were born.  It is of course going to be difficult to leave and let go of the many pleasures that we have become accustomed to and take for granted but we also realise that it is time to re-connect with another home, we like to think that we are becoming a global family.

Love that Thinglish!

Love that Thinglish!

My oldest son likes to compare new countries that he visits with Thailand, to observe what is similar and what is different.  He is going to be in shock mid-November in the north west of England when the obvious differences hit him!  What makes Thailand such an amazing place is how easy it is, especially for families.  The Thai people are so welcoming and they love young children.  I will miss speaking Thai with them and getting myself into trouble as I get lost beyond the second sentences of a conversation.  I admire their appreciation and tolerance of a foreigner making the effort though, especially my local barber who I have had the same conversation with (in Thai) four times a year for the last eight years.

What a sandwich!

What a sandwich!

The Thai food is awesome of course but I have to say that one of my all time favourite discoveries on arriving in Thailand was Au Bon Pain.  The chocolate croissants are to die for and the steak and swiss cheese sandwich is mega – I couldn’t believe it when I found out they delivered as well!  I have had two of the sandwiches this week for old times sake and savored them as much as I did in the early bachelorhood days when they were part of the daily diet.  Au Bon Pain always got my mothers blessing as well whenever she visited as she always said, “they making a piping hot cup of tea.”

Ciao Khun John's

Ciao Khun John’s

The first place I ever drank a beer in Thailand was Khun John’s restaurant on the banks of Lake Mabprachan.  The Friday football lads took me there after my first sub-tropical kick-about and I had no idea where I was – I knew I was almost dying of heat stroke though.  The Heineken came in these huge bottles and seemed to be bottomless.  All I can remember is that I was told not to eat or drink after midnight as I had an important medical the next day.  The following Monday I got a note in my tray informing me I had failed the medical and had to attend another one that coming weekend.  I didn’t go to Khun John’s after football that Friday!  I have been many times since though as it is a family favourite eating place.  Any Thai food you want, it is tasty, quick and good value.  We went for the last time this week and coincidentally the waiter told us that Khun John has apparently sold up (after all these years) and it will become an Italian restaurant next month.  I can’t imagine Thailand without Khun John’s it has been a constant in our lives.

The shop that sells everything

The shop that sells everything

I am looking forward to the UK village shop again and buying a daily newspaper and a bag of Walkers Crisps (I have got to stop saying chips… and candies… and cookies) but it is not going to be Janya Mart.  There is something special about the Thai family shop that sells everything.  It is sad that a lot have struggled to survive since Seven Eleven has swept across the country but there are still a number out there and I always make the effort to use them.  Janya Mart is our local village shop and it is one of the best ways to connect with the local community and to use your Thai.  It is set up (like all other Thai family shops) to focus on social interaction with benches and tables outside and always an array of tempting snacks to choose from – it is the hub of the community.  You can buy a beer at anytime of the day, sit down on the bench and watch the Thai world go by. You can even drive your motorbike up to the shop and fill it up with petrol from a selection of bottles usually precariously placed on a wooden framed structure. Janya Mart has been a regular calling point for the last eight years and I will miss the interaction and constant smiling faces of both Janya and Nui who have witnessed our family grow and devour – God knows how many ice lollies!  I have explained to them that we are leaving on Monday but I am not sure if they have really understood, I will pop in before we go, wai, thank them and say goodbye.

If you liked this post you may also like this: 15 Years of Stuff

The Rice Challenge – a Scottish perspective

Post contributed by Karen Partyka

buying the rice

buying the rice

Over the last few months I had seen many of my friends and colleagues do the Ice Bucket Challenge but for some reason it did not feel right for me. I had read on Paul’s blog about the rice challenge that some people were doing instead. It started in Angola where water is scarce and it would not be appropriate to waste water so they changed it to the rice. Then last week Paul nominated me to do the rice challenge. I had seen Paul donate his rice but living in Scotland I knew it would be quite different. So first of all I looked online for local food banks and found one quite close. Unfortunately the first thing I saw on their website was an appeal for urgent items, there was 5 items and 3 of these were chocolate, brown and tomato sauces. I reflected on if you were truly desperate for food, would chocolate or brown sauce be one of your top things. I suppose it goes back to poverty in the developed world is a very different poverty than that in the developing world.

at the food bank

at the food bank

I bought my rice and visited the food bank with my mum, there was no big ceremonial handing over of the rice and the people working there were polite but not particularly talkative. I had wanted to find out more about who visited the food bank, what were their situations but this was not possible.

When I returned home I remembered seeing a woman being interviewed on the BBC a few months ago. Her name was Jack and was a single mum with a baby son. She had to give up her job as it was impossible to work and look after her child. She calculated that with the money from her benefits and her outgoing expenses she had £10 left each week for food. She took a different approach from visiting a food bank, she went to the library and started looking for recipes which were healthy but also kept within her budget. She then started visiting her local shops to find out what time they discounted their food each day and with this information she started to live her life with her £10 a week. Jack started her own blog with her recipes and has built her life from quite a humble start with her son but she demonstrated that working hard and being resourceful is the best teaching tool for her son.

Her website is http://agirlcalledjack.com

Jack and son

Jack and son

In comparison to this there are quite a few stories of families in the UK who are living on benefits but who seem to spend their money on unusual things in their circumstances. One example is a family with children in North Wales. They do not work and their only income is through benefits.  Each week they spend £15 on Sky TV, £32 on mobiles and £240 on shopping which includes 24 cans of lager, 200 cigarettes and a large pouch of tobacco. It astounds me that a family would spend so much of their benefits on lager, cigarettes and SKY TV.

I remember meeting a lovely man whilst I was in South Africa on the RSIS service project, he was the gardener at the centre. He was a gentle man who was a grandfather and was already in his 70s. He was very cheerful and did not ever give you any idea of worry or need in his life. But one day through general chatting he told me that he walked to work each day as it meant he saved the money of the bus. The walk was 3 miles each way, so 2 hours of walking each day just to save his bus fare. The money he saved was not huge but he told me that it all adds up. Would people in the developed world consider doing this to save a little bit of money, unfortunately I think not.

All people have to take responsibility for their lives and to better themselves. I wonder in the UK, do people just expect to be looked after. If there was no welfare state would there be a motivation that it is up to you to better yourself, not the government to provide.

It is a terrible thing in this world that in the developed world we have people in poverty, children in poverty and families visiting food banks but there are procedures in place to ensure a child will not die of hunger in the UK. If we saw a child living on the street in the UK it would be reported straight away. In many developing countries countless children live on the street and people walk by them each day as they slowly die of hunger without a second glance behind. Each year 2.6 million children die of hunger.