Palm Trees and Water Taxis…

School Holidays-Part Two    
For our second day of hiking the Abel Tasman National Park, we chose a slightly shorter itinerary with the boat leaving at 9:30am and returning at 4.  We saw more golden beaches and seal pups sunning themselves on the rocks.  One of the many benefits of the park is the terrain is truly accessible for everyone.  There are very few steep changes in elevation and you are in charge of the length of your stay. 

 
  

   
That night, when I rang my nephew for his birthday, I spoke to my oldest brother who asked where I was.  When I told him the Abel Tasman (he thought I was heading straight to Queenstown), he gave me a very detailed history lesson on all of my family connections to the Abel Tasman.  There is a large grove of trees in Totaranui which was planted by my ancestors.  My Grandmother was born in Awaroa in 1900.  The Pitt Head track was named after my family…I knew none of this.  Part of this is not surprising due to the fact that history is not, and has never been my strong suit.  Unless you count the times Jeff has really made me angry and then I turn in to a historian that could have earned a PhD…

I do believe that had I not been gone for so long, I would know these stories.  Or at least some of them.  After I got off the phone with my brother, I repeated all that he had told me to my kids.  It went something like this.

“Hey!  Remember that Pitt Head track that we hiked yesterday??”

“No.”

“It is named after my family!”

“Cool Mum.”

Clearly they aren’t history buffs either…

    
After two full on days, we decided to extend our stay in Kaiteriteri one more day and just relax.  With views from our Bach like this, who could blame us?

  
Our history certainly has a hand in shaping us but it does not define us.  Children are masters at staying in the moment and not worrying about tomorrow.  Unless you take their iPod away and tell them they can’t have it back until tomorrow.  Then the future becomes very important indeed…

Planes, Boats and Automobiles

School Holidays-Part One 
Because I am not famous and I don’t have people who capture all of the big, amazing moments in my life, you will just have to take me at my word that Jeff’s reunion with his kids was beautiful.  There was little talking and lots of heavy hugging and then lots and lots of talking and sharing and laughing.  Then 48 hours after arriving, we dragged our only non-dimpled member in to our trusty Black Betty (everyone names their cars right?) and then on to a ferry headed for the South Island.

  
The kids had 2 weeks of school holidays and I planned to spend every hour of them on the South Island.  The ferry that connects the North and the South Islands takes 3 and a half hours to cross the Cook Strait.  Depending on the weather, it can be very pleasant or very…memorable.  I may or may not have taken the ferry the morning after a tennis tournament in my teen years which left me very, very sick.  I still maintain that it was the rough crossing not the drinks the night before that made me ill…This time around, I stayed out on the boat deck by choice to watch the North Island disappear from view and the South Island present itself in all its majesty.  It is without question, the most scenic of the two islands and I was so excited to rediscover it with my family.  Tate spotted 3 dolphins just before we pulled in to Picton.  It was a spectacular welcome.  

    

   Our first stop was my family church in Koromiko.  It was established in 1871 and although in need of some paint, remains just as I remember it.  My great, great grandparents donated the gates that my children walked through.  Services are still held there once a month.  It is called St John in the Wilderness and it is aptly named. I much prefer this photo of my children than the last one taken of me in the same spot.  I believe there was neon involved… 

  
Unlike Wellington, Autumn in the South Island is in full swing.  The gold and red hues that I am used to were a welcome reminder of the current season.  Day One ended in Nelson with an early night for all because we all had a very big day ahead of us tomorrow..

We woke early and drove to the beautiful beach town of Kaiteriteri.  After dropping our bags off at our bach(Kiwi for small holiday house), we headed to the beach.  We then caught a water taxi to our drop off location in the Abel Tasman National Park.  We had picked one of the longest day hikes offered and hoped Poppy could handle the distance.  Our boat left at 9am and we wouldn’t be back until 6pm.

  

  

  

Golden sandy beaches.  Completely deserted.  This is the magic of the Abel Tasman National Park.  Each time we emerged from the beautiful native bush, a beach like this revealed itself.  Our kids seemed unfazed by the isolation as they ran from one end of the beach to the other.  During the entire day, we encountered 16 people on our day long hike.  This is the great benefit of existing near the bottom of the world and one of the many reasons that New Zealand remains largely unspoiled.  The long flight and the cost weeds out those that want to see New Zealand from those that need to see it. 

  

    

  
Three very tired and very happy hikers.  Until they found out tomorrow was going to look a lot like today…

Airport Bound

  Photo by Leslee Mitchell Photography
  
When I was away at University in the States, I would call home as often as I could rationalise with the cost.  Calling collect only works if your in prison, or atleast about to be.  I was attending a small school in Kentucky before Lord of the Rings was made.  No one knew anything about New Zealand.  I can’t tell you how many people complimented me on my English.  Calling home and hearing a familiar voice on the other end kept me going.  As I was preparing to go home for the first time in a year, I remember my Mother telling me “Don’t put us up on a pedestal.  We are the same people we were when you left.”  My Mother is a very bright woman.  We all have a tendency to rewrite history.

Today is a big, big day.  Today, my children get their Dad back.  And I get my man back.  And it gets difficult to get a seat in a restaurant again.  It has been 9 weeks which is far too long for all of us.  When Jeff last saw Poppy, she couldn’t read.  Last night, she read a Dr Seuss book to her brother and sister.  I am so thankful for this gift that Jeff has given us.  He encouraged me to take our kids on an experience of a lifetime, knowing that he couldn’t come.  When I doubted the sanity of my idea, he pushed me to perservere.  

I am not rewriting history when I say that we are a stronger family when he is with us.  And when he leaves again in 3 weeks, we will be really, really sad.  But I predict for much different reasons than when he left us in February.  This time, we will be sad to know that our time here is half way over.

Prior to this adventure, New Zealand belonged to me.  It was “Where Mum grew up and why we get in trouble if we call her Mom.”  In 11 weeks that has all changed.  New Zealand is now part of them.  It is in their soul.  Yesterday, I watched all three of my children get up on their school stage and sing in their Kapa Haka group (Maori performing arts).  They sang 2 songs in Maori with big smiling faces.  This is their country too now.  They are making their own way here.  

And when we return to the US in July, if my kids want to put New Zealand on a pedestal, it’s okay with me.  I certainly do.

Pumpkin Spiced What???

  
I love love love Autumn in Nashville.  As the heat of the summer disappears, I welcome the chance to turn off the air conditioning, throw open the windows and get outside again!  And as someone who is far from their physical best, putting the shorts away in favour of leggings (no debate here-they are definitely considered pants in my closet) is a happy calendar day.  I can rock a cable sweater with the best of them.  There is always next summer…

Autumn is choc full of fun.  Everyone seems to put their differences aside and join each other in celebrating the end of sweating while walking to check the letterbox.  And the death of mosquitos.  And not having to put sunscreen on your kids.  And see your kids go back to school.  Yes I know there are Mothers out there that claim they are sad when their 10 weeks of togetherness comes to an end but they are not my people.  The entire month of June is a mind numbing routine of breakfast/sunscreen/swim team/pool for hours/repeat and I can’t wait to pack the kids and husband in to the car for a month on the open road where cooler temps beckon…   

We arrived in New Zealand on the 29th of January to the best summer in 40 years.  The weather has been nothing short of incredible.  According to the calendar, Autumn is in full effect here but it is difficult to tell.  In the States, Autumn means our weekends are packed with pumpkin patch visits(kiwis don’t ask), leaf piles that beg to be jumped in, weather perfect for entertaining outside and an endless rotation of s’mores for the kids and delicious New Zealand Pinot Noirs for Jeff and I. From the pumpkin spiced latte that the baristas peddle at every opportunity to front porches decorated with pumpkins and hay bales, it’s in your face amazing.  But it’s exhausting.  I always find myself trailing behind my kids stealing lollies from strangers (otherwise known as Halloween) breathing the crisp air and secretly counting down the minutes until the said thieves are satiated and we can all go home and relax.

Here in Wellington, everything is still green.  Autumn, as far as I can tell, is simply a season to slow down and enjoy the different veggies on offer from the farmers market or the new menu at your favourite local bistro.  It is the start of Rugby season and roasts on a Sunday.  The pace in an already relaxed country seems to relax even further. Pure heaven.  And have we talked about the red wine game in New Zealand??

Last week, my girlfriend and I headed to a lovely local restaurant in the heart of the city for lunch.  I couldn’t believe my eyes.  Pumpkins!  They were casually piled up and provided just the right pop of colour to this beautifully simple space.  The menu reflected the Autumn season and everything was delicious.

         
   

  
 
Soon after I return to Nashville, summer will be winding down (kids will be going back to school!) and the usual anticipation for Autumn will begin.  I plan on taking a page out of my kiwi playbook and pushing pause more often.  But not before stocking up on wine and s’mores…

“You’re so brave!”


The other day, when meeting a new person, she asked essentially what my story was.  I gave her the short version of my decision to bring my kids home to New Zealand and she seemed amazed.  It’s not the first time I’ve had that reaction.  Even I get this was a big move.  She, just as others before her have said, “You’re SO brave!”  And I thought “Am I brave?” And the answer was a clear and decisive No.  Thanks inner voice-you’re a real cheerleader.  But it’s true.  Coming home to New Zealand with a few frames of reference, a supportive husband, a bank account that could survive without me working while here and an end date is not brave.  A big deal yes, but not brave.  Certainly, I have jumped out of my comfort zone but it has been a long time since I have encountered a situation that required me to be brave.

My kids, they are truly the brave ones.  As I mentioned before, Poppy started school for the first time here in New Zealand. She had been in the country for 6 days and we were walking her into a classroom that she had never visited before with a teacher she had never met.  In the States, there are Popsicle play dates on the new school playground with new friends to meet well before the actual first day of school.  Prepare, prepare, prepare.  Poppy didn’t have this luxury.  It was, largely due to circumstance, reminiscent of old school parenting.  “There is your new school/new class/new teacher.  Have a good day!” Maybe it’s just her, or maybe kids require less hand holding and coddling that we tend to give them.  Big smile and she was gone.  Brave Poppy.

Two weeks after school started, Tate came home and told me that he had heard some boys talking about Rugby on the playground.  He found out they had signed up for a team so he went and asked the teacher who was in charge if he could join in, for a sport that he had no idea how to play.  He didn’t need me to hold his hand, he just needed a ride to practice.  Two weeks after that, he was in his first rugby tournament.  I picked up Mum on the rainiest and windiest day so far and we headed to watch him.  I couldn’t find him in the grandstand or on the rugby field.  I did find him at the sausage truck shouting his buddy Oran lunch, completely soaked and happy.  My son…in New Zealand, playing in a rugby tournament, eating a sausage, wrapped in white bread, 15km from the house I grew up in.  Brave Tate.


In the same vein, Emma decided that she was going to join the other Year 6 girls and try out for the Netball team.  After being gone for 20 plus years and out of the Netball loop for much longer than that, I completely misinterpreted just what a big deal these trials would be.  I predicted low key.  It was anything but.  I watched Emma walk on to the the netball court armed only with the advice of “You’re not allowed to dribble the ball like basketball.”  No Mother of the Year award that day. There was an outside selector brought in to “select”.  It was an intimidating scene for sure.  I could tell Emma was nervous but she held her own and tried her best.  The selector told Emma she did “bloody well” and…what do you know, she made the B team.  Regardless of the end result, walking on to that netball court showed guts.

Emma also got the opportunity to join the other kids in the Upper Middle School and go away to camp. As we were walking in to the train station that I had visited at least 5000 times as a kid, it hit me that Emma had no frame of reference to where the train would take her.  Usually, when kids go off to camp (with kids they have known for more than a month), they have some idea of where they are going.  Emma did not.  Nor did she know these kids very well.  But as we arrived, she saw one of her new friends who rushed to hug her and she was gone.  I, of course, stayed until she boarded the train.  She didn’t look back once.  She bounded from that train 3 days later dirty, tired and happy.  Brave, brave Emma.


My kids have impressed me with how much they have leaped into this experience, clearly determined to make the most of their time here.  I also do not kid myself.  Had we decided to move here permanently, I know that there would have been many more bumps in the road.  I have watched dear friends move to different states and countries, repeatedly assuring their kids and themselves that it was going to be great.  But not really knowing if it would be.  That is true bravery.  My kids are thriving here in my amazing country and they also know that they get to go back to their house/school/life in July.  Hopefully, they will have lots of great stories to share with their friends.  And I also hope that they return to Nashville a little braver than when they left, with a renewed belief in their abilities to jump headfirst in to the unknown.

Because clearly the voices in my children’s heads are their biggest cheerleaders and forever may that continue.

More Aussie Fun

Australia-Part 2

After a late night out in Sydney, how fortuitous that the Easter Bunny had visited the night before and left chocolate eggs and chocolate kiwi’s(thanks Nana)for all of the kids who woke up super early to come and wake us all up and let us know.


We had a lovely relaxing morning until the sugar kicked in and then it was clearly time to get out of the house.  We headed to Bondi to watch the surfers and check out the iconic Icebergs Pool.  Apparently, I missed Hugh Jackman saving his son from a rip at Bondi the day before.  Bondi is a very well known beach which gets really crowded.  Thankfully, it was overcast which kept the crowds(and sadly Hugh Jackman)away.


On our last full day in Sydney, the weather had cleared enough to take the kids to the beach for the day.

 

We couldn’t pull the kids off the beach so we grabbed takeaways from the loveliest cafe and let them eat on their towels.  Poppy was in heaven swimming in the ocean and eating yellow food…

 

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I am not sure my kids have truly grasped how lucky they are to be having these experiences.  Perhaps that is why I love taking so many photos so they can look back on their childhoods and fill in the gaps in their memories and mine.  Or maybe I am planning on using it as proof that their childhoods were amazing despite what their future therapist helps them “remember”.  Children are consummate pros at living in the moment, something I can struggle with.  I am a planner by nature which doesn’t naturally lend itself to living in the present.  My friends have called me an “over communicator” because I love to discuss thoughts and feelings and plans.  I definitely should have followed through on my initial plan to be a therapist.  As much as my children are works in progress, at 42, so am I.  I remember having one of those Oprah lightbulb moments when after one of the many times I asked J what he was thinking about(yes I am that woman) and he had predictably told me “nothing”, it hit me.  He was telling the truth!!!

On our last night in Sydney, my brother kindly offered to look after all the kids so his wife and I could venture out to a place I had been insta-crushing on for a while.  And it did not disappoint.  Watsons Bay Boutique Hotel is a lovely little hotel located in the Eastern suburbs. It’s casual vibe felt like Australia meets Miami.  The family friendly vibe was a lovely surprise-next time kids, next time…We didn’t eat but the food did look fantastic and I can absolutely vouch for the grapefruit margaritas. Or at least the first one.

  


Australia was a whirlwind of fun and new experiences but the best part would have to be watching my kids develop stronger ties to their cousins.  Certainly, showing them some of Australia was important but I have come home to not only show them my corner of the world but to deepen relationships.  And on this trip, we absolutely did that.

G’day Mate!

 

AUSTRALIA PART I

 Put another…case of wine in the fridge because I am bringing my 3 kids to Australia!  Did you really think I was going to inject the ridiculous “Put another shrimp on the Barbie” colloquialism in to this blog post?  No, although I did eat shrimp my first night…

When I first mentioned my plan to go to New Zealand for 6 months, several friends asked me if I was also going to go to Australia while I was there.  To be honest, it hadn’t crossed my mind.  My brother and his family live in Sydney but they were coming to New Zealand for my Mum’s birthday so I knew I would see them then.  And my main focus while planning this trip was pure survival.  So there was never a “Should I add an international trip to Aussie, without Jeff but with my 3 kids on to this already slightly insane adventure??”  No.  No.  NO.  And then my brother invited me and all I could picture was Poppy holding a koala and I was saying Yes Yes YES.  So flights were booked and honestly not much thought was given to the details because Sydney was a long way off…until it wasn’t.  Easter was the perfect time because here in this part of the world, Easter is a holiday.  The kids didn’t have school on Easter Friday, Easter Monday or the following Tuesday.  Which is in such contrast to Easter in the US.  There, no time off given and the religious significance of Easter is paramount.  Here in New Zealand(and in Australia), there is very little emphasis on God and it is viewed as a family holiday.  Case in point, Poppy came sprinting out of her classroom on the Thursday before Easter yelling “The Easter bunny came to see us and he left big white footprints behind and he gave us all chocolate eggs!!!”  After drinking in her cuteness, all that kept popping in to my mind was “That wouldn’t happen in the US”. 

Travel is such a gift and I appreciate every opportunity I have.  I love to see and do it all.  So when considering which flight to Sydney we should take, the early 6:30am flight seemed like the obvious choice.  We would arrive around 8:30am and we would have all day to adjust and relax.  A 6:30am departure meant I needed to wake my kids up at 3:40am to get in our taxi at 4am to get to the airport at 4:30AM.  Ridiculous.  Luckily, it all went smoothly and my kids were complete troopers.  

  

 Apologies to the lovely man that I crawled across to get this photo

With a flying time of 3 and a half hours, there was time for a movie(me-Everest, Tate-Star Wars, Emma listened to music and Poppy watched ChipWrecked)and breakfast and then before we knew it, we were landing in Sydney.  It was amazing to see my brother and his son there to greet us.  The cousins picked up where they left off a few weeks before and off they went to jump in to the pool.  Three hours after arriving in Australia and showing no signs of jetlag(them not me-I looked like a drug dealer with all the visine I was shooting in to my eyes), the kids were jumping in to the surf at the beautiful Balmoral beach.  Watching my American kids running along the beach in Australia was one of those moments that I hope to not forget.  When I finally got my kids to bed, they had been up for 18 hours straight.  Such a big, massive, amazing day.

  

While our first day in Sydney was cloudy, Day Two promised the best weather so we made the most of it and packed our day full of touristy fun.  We headed downtown and walked around an area of Sydney called The Rocks.  It is the historic district which I love to wander through each time I visit Sydney.  My kids just kept asking when it would be time for ice cream.  Then we climbed the Pylon on the Sydney Harbour Bridge which gives you great views of the Bridge and the rest of Sydney.  Initially we had planned to do the Bridge Climb but with a minimum age of 8 and a staggering price of $170 AU per person, we decided to wait and do it when we were all old enough to complete it.  Because at that price, we plan to experience it just once…

  
  
  
We then boarded a ferry that took us straight to Taronga Zoo.  I love taking the ferry in Sydney.  It is one of the most beautiful cities in the world and the Harbour is one of its greatest assets.  

  
    

 The Taronga Zoo occupies prime real estate right on the Harbour.  The views from the zoo are some of the best in town.   Predictably, the highlights were the kangaroos and the koalas.  

  

  
  
We also took the gondola from the bottom of the zoo to the top.  How hard is it to look at one camera???  

It was then time to get the kids home to meet one very brave babysitter(6 kids) and I was practically running out the door.  It’s amazing how jetlag and the pain of running in high heels is completely forgotten with the promise of cocktails and great food…My brother and sister in law have lived in Sydney for a long time and know all the great places.  We grabbed an Uber in to the city to the Opera Bar which is located next to the Opera House.  It was a gorgeous night and it was packed with people all there to enjoy the view.  

  

  
We then headed to a Probihibition type bar named Palmer in Co.  The waitresses were all dressed in their flapper best and the male waiters and bartenders were styling their 1920’s finery.  The drinks were delicious and it felt great to be out in such a great city.  We then headed upstairs to Mr Wong’s for some incredible Chinese food.  Such a fun night!

  

  
  

Whanau First

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The weekend after we arrived in Wellington (our home base), something happened that has never happened before.  My Mum or Nana to those most important to her, had all 9 of her grandchildren gather to celebrate her 76th birthday.  In this day and age of FaceTime and Skype, one can trick yourself in to believing that you are staying “in touch” with the people you love who live far away.  I am certainly doing this with J.  I am the youngest of three with all of us living in different countries. So getting together is challenging to say the least.  We all lead busy lives with families of our own to take care of. But they were once the only family I knew so it is always nice to see my big brothers and their beautiful families in person.  Even to get completely annoyed in person.  It is all better in person.  Nothing is lost in translation.  Comments and intentions can be questioned on the spot (or at least they are in my family…), not left to be misinterpreted for months to come.

So I took this photo of Nana with her 9 grandchildren, in descending age and I don’t think I have ever seen her look so proud.  This photo could not have happened without lots of people making lots of effort to come together.  Sometimes, it is often deemed more important to show up to celebrate the end of ones life than while they are still living it.

Having moved to the other side of the world at 19, I can tell you that these moments are not lost on me.  While I have gained so much from attending school in the US and meeting Jeff, there is no question that much has been lost too.  So I am here with my 3 babies and with the encouragement of perhaps the World’s Greatest Husband, stringing together lots of both fabulous and mundane moments that I hope and pray will last me through the sadness of leaving in July.  My heart, now more than ever belongs in both New Zealand and the US.  But my soul, it will forever belong to this amazing country, Aoteoroa.

Note-my Mum would like me to let you know that she is healthy and not near death as I have apparently made it seem…She told me that, in person.

I Love Mondays…

It’s all about perspective and mine has certainly changed.  Not in some deep, life altering kind of way(although I am hoping some type of personal growth is happening but I am too tired to notice), but in a shallow good God do I LOVE Monday’s way.

In the States, I adore Friday afternoons when the kids are home and we are gearing up for our weekends.  Weekends that involve lots of togetherness, relaxation and at times forced family bonding.  I love our weekends!!!  And that is exactly what happens here in New Zealand, just less one very capable parent…I was raised by a single Mother so you can imagine there is no sympathy from that camp, especially since this arrangement is temporary.  Oh and did I mention that my very lovely flat has no back yard.  This means that staying home for a few hours involves conversations like “No tv kids.  Why not Mum?  Because it’s a beautiful day.  So let’s go do something. EErrrrr…” So to all the single parents out there, or the 2 that are reading my blog, you are AMAZING!!!!!!

Luckily I pride myself on my planning skills and Wellington is an incredibly vibrant city with so much to do.  But still…

So here are a few photos from this weekend which involved a drive around the bay’s, breakfast on the beach, a visit to our neighbourhood fair for overpriced fudge and some face painting, 2 park visits, an impromptu cricket game(watching Tate “baseball pitch” a cricket ball was comedy!), walking around the city, Poppy’s hip hop class, afternoon tea at Nana’s and Hell’s pizza.  You read that last one correctly American friends.  Their slogan-Go Straight to Hell…how do you think that would go down in the US of A?

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“Don’t live the same year 75 times and call it a life.”

Robin Sharma

 

 

One Month On My Own

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HI!

If you are reading this blog, I want to firstly thank you for taking the time to do so.  I also want this to be a healthy relationship so you should probably know what you are in for.  This is my first blog post and unless Oprah calls, it may be my last.  Part of this idea to move home to New Zealand for 6 months with my kids was born from a need to do something different.  I am not good with the unknown or the unfamiliar.  And I have been gone a LONG time.  I have never “adulted” here so there is more that is unfamiliar about my life here than familiar.  So why not blog too?  And it will cut down on the international texting.  There have been more than a few “HOW ARE YOU DOING?”  In the essence of honesty, there has been one breakdown of the crying in the dark variety but that is long(one week)behind me.  And it only lasted through two glasses of delicious New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc…

One month ago today, the kids and I drove Jeff to the airport.  It was the moment we had all been dreading since we arrived 12 days before.  He was leaving me to get on with this temporary life in my homeland with more belief in my abilities than I could ever have.  He knew I could do it.  I wasn’t so sure.  After the kids got back in the car, I got to say my goodbye that would have been very dramatic had it not been for those little tear stained faces watching our every move.  So I gave my guy one more hug and kiss and said something wildly inappropriate in his ear that made him laugh out loud(the desired outcome) and he was gone.

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We promptly drove straight to a stationary shop to buy a calendar so the kids could all take turns marking off each day until he returns to us.  37 days and we are all counting.

6 days after we arrived in New Zealand, my 3 kids started school(Poppy for the very first time).  The first day nerves were definitely there with Poppy practicing her teachers name all the way down the hill and Emma and Tate quiet(SO not normal).  One month in to their school life here and I can tell you they love it.  If I do decide to blog more, there will be a more in depth post on the differences between their school in America and the perceived differences here(there are many).

They have each made friends and tried new things and new sports and new food.  They are thriving in the “newness” and they inspire me to welcome the unfamiliar in to my world more easily.

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“We cannot stay home all our lives.  We must present ourselves to the world and we must look upon it as an adventure.”

Beatrix Potter