Half Term and Halloween

The closest I'll ever get to space

The closest I’ll ever get to space

I feel guilty that I’m not managing to blog regularly at the moment. With all the various things going on in my life, I don’t have many words. I have been pouring my creativity into other endeavours – knitting, playing the piano, photo editing and rearranging the furniture.

It’s also half term here in the UK and while ten days has been easier to manage than six weeks, I still find it drains me so that I just want to sleep. That’s been exacerbated by the clocks going back last weekend – our normally early rising kids have taken it to new extremes by getting up at 5 a.m. every day, and still not getting sleepy until 8 p.m. I wish I knew where they got their energy from. At least we have been blessed with some unseasonal gorgeous autumn weather.

So, in lieu of interesting words, here are some random family snaps to bore you instead! 🙂 Hopefully life will right itself sometime soon and normal service will resume.

First ever trick or treat adventure

First ever trick or treat adventure

Pumpkin Trail at Lyveden New Bield

Pumpkin Trail at Lyveden New Bield

Fishing in October

Fishing in October

Knitted brooches

Knitted brooches

Halloween cookies (made without cutters)

Halloween cookies (made without cutters)

Den building at West Lodge

Den building at West Lodge

Sand castles on halloween

Sand castles on halloween

Making potions in the garden

Making potions in the garden

Carving pumpkins

Carving pumpkins at Sacrewell Farm

Directing a space launch

Directing a space launch

Pony ride on cracker

Pony ride on cracker

Art in August #12 – Loomband Octopus

Loomband Octopus from an Izzilicious tutorial

Loomband Octopus from an Izzalicious tutorial

There’s something cruel and sod’s-law-ish about getting a virus in the school holidays where the only symptom seems to be chronic fatigue. I am only keeping the panic that I’ve got CFS at bay by the fact that my mum seems to have the same virus.

I took the children to the Farm today, after a lazy morning looming while they created chaos. Normally the Farm is an easy trip. We feed the animals, go on a tractor tour of the fields and have a picnic. Today we also got to watch a ferret race and have a cuddle with the elusive farm cat. We were there for three hours.

When we got home we had our usual hour watching TV. And then I went to plug the iPad in to charge, lay down and barely moved for the next two hours.

For the first hour the kids watched more TV, and yelled for me a bit. I couldn’t even get up to stop the noise. I heard my daughter say to my son, “just go upstairs and ask her,” so I knew it wasn’t serious. When he did finally come up, sobbing, it was to say, “but Mummy I didn’t want to watch that programme.” I think you call that a First World Problem.

Sick or school-holiday-itis?

Sick or school-holiday-itis?

For the second hour they came and wriggled in the bed with me and, when they’d had enough of being told to lie still, went off to play. It seemed to involve much shrieking, running and giggling, combined with, “he hit me!” “she pushed me” which I ignored.

I managed to go down for an hour to do some writing and numbers with them and play board games. But as soon as I’d cooked the kids’ tea I had to hand over to hubbie and come back to bed. Poor hubbie, he’s having a rotten time at the moment – he’s barely over his tonsillitis and he’s having to play tag-parenting like he did when they were babies. Only they were less annoying then!

He also informed me that he’s felt this exhausted for the last two years, which made me want to get up and stop being pathetic. But I couldn’t. So much for all our summer holiday plans, all the house projects I intended to get done.

It’s a weird sort of exhaustion. Not the kind where you’ve been up all night, or you’ve been digging in the garden all day. This feels like I’ve been drugged, like the tiredness is a heavy coat I must wear. Kind of the opposite of depression, which is a heaviness on the inside. Anyway, I just about managed to finish this octopus. Now back to bed.

[I moved this pre-written post a bit later out of respect for my previous post on Robin Williams]

Christmas Grump: 2013 365 Challenge #335

Jolly Joules, part of the Living Nativity at the Farm

Jolly Joules, part of the Living Nativity at the Farm

I love Christmas. It’s my favourite time of year. I love buying presents, wrapping them and putting them under the tree. I love decorating the tree, and Christmas lights and tinsel.

In the past I’ve made wreaths from scratch with fir-tree branches and pine cones. I’ve hand made Christmas cards and sent them to dozens of people with individual messages in each one. I agonise over gifts to get the perfect present and don’t really have anything I want for myself. Hubbie’s never been a great fan of the season, but Christmas is me to the very core.

Then I had my daughter, and the magic continued. I dressed my daughter up in a Mrs Christmas outfit, aged 10 months, and she was adorable. I made Christmas sacks and Christmas cards with hand and feet prints on them. Magical.

Father Christmas arriving by carriage

Father Christmas arriving by carriage

I had my son. And that Christmas was special too, if slightly stressful, as we hosted 13 to dinner in our barely finished kitchen. But my son was only three months old, and poorly, so I did very little on Christmas Day but make little felt stars and sit in the corner breastfeeding, surrounded by family. Gorgeous.

It all went down hill from there. The children started noticing Christmas. The pressure to get the perfect presents, to make it magical for them, too, increased. And my time diminished. I no longer had endless head-space to plan presents, or endless evenings to sew and make. My temper got shorter and my nerves tighter. Christmas started too early and went on too long.

This year has been the worst so far. It’s not even December for another few hours, and already I’ve turned into Scrooge. I’m trying, I really am. We went to see Father Christmas arrive at the farm today, as he pulled up in his white carriage drawn by shire horses, accompanied by Mrs Christmas. It should have been great. But his cushion had slipped and he didn’t say hello to my son, which made him sad.

Children's tree

Children’s tree

And the lies had to start. “Why can’t we see him and get a gift today, Mummy?” “Because it’s too early, because it’s busy, because, because…” The real reason is the Farm have two men playing Father Christmas, and we’ve always seen the other one, who I used to do Panto with when I was a teenager. He’s fab. He makes Christmas for us. But he doesn’t start until the 16th, and now my daughter’s at school that means we won’t see him until 21st December. That’s a long way off.

The lies are the hardest part of Christmas. You have to be alert to lie consistently and with conviction. I’m rubbish at it. And my children are smart. I’m trying to create the magic, but it doesn’t come with a handbook, and quite frankly I miss being able to get ready for Christmas in my own little magical bubble.

I can’t even share the pain with the hubbie, because obviously some of the gifts are for him, and surprising him is one of the few joys left. Because the other problem is, my children are a bit spoilt. Yes, I know; my fault. When my daughter got her bike, two years ago, she said, “Where’s the bell?”

She gets it from me. Because I want Christmas to be perfect, I do have a tendency to be a bit ungrateful when I get an utterly random gift that I think is a waste of money. I try to hide it, but did I mention I’m rubbish at lying? It’s a minefield.

The finished tree

The finished tree

Oh, and money, there’s the other stress this year. I dreamed I got caught shop lifting last night, and I think it was my psyche telling me that might be the last resort (joke!). It’s not that we don’t have the money, but because I haven’t earned a penny this year, I don’t feel like it’s mine to spend. I’d have to sell a lot of books to buy even one gift! Not like in the days when I earned proper cash as a contractor!

Anyway, I’m getting my grumble and gripe out now, before December arrives (even though you’ll be reading this in a few hours, when it is December!) so hopefully I can work on the magic. Try and stress less, do less, and concentrate on getting through a whole hour with the children without wanting to scream.

I did manage to let them decorate the tree earlier, and only ‘tidied’ it up a little bit, removed some of the tinsel and added the lights. (It helped that I’m reading a good book, so I kept my head down and didn’t watch!)

Please tell me it gets easier, though? The lying at least.

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Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:

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“Leave him alone.” Claire’s voice whipped across the empty space, stopping Robert as he was about to follow after his son.

“I will not have a child of mine talk to me like that.” The urbane smile was gone, replaced by a dangerous red flush. “Two weeks with you and they’ve turned savage.” He pulled his arm free of the wide-eyed woman by his side, and once more turned to go.

“I said leave him!” Claire’s shout echoed off the white walls and glass doors. Robert turned slowly to face her, his eyes wild.

“Stay out of this, Claire. You’ve had nothing to do with the boys all their lives; don’t start playing Auntie now; it doesn’t suit you.”

“It suits me better than father suits you. When did you become such a monster, Robert? You were always a whiny child, but I don’t remember you being such a wanker.”

Jack sniggered behind her, and Claire flushed as she remembered there was still one of her nephews in the room. She looked over and gave him a rueful smile. “Jack, why don’t you go and see if your brother’s alright? I’m just going to have a chat with your dad.”

With a mischievous grin, Jack nodded and silently left the room. Claire noticed that he gave Gabriella a kind smile, and Claire wondered what the poor girl must make of her welcome. Judging from her bemused expression, Claire decided she probably didn’t speak very good English.

Just as well.

She dismissed her from her mind and turned her attention back to Robert. He stood with his hands on his hips, glaring at her, his chin jutting out pugnaciously. He looked ridiculous. Claire felt the anger drain away, taking all her vicious words with it.

“What possessed you to bring her here? As far as I can gather, the boys haven’t even met her yet, and you turn up two hours late to collect them and coolly announce you’re engaged. What planet are you on?”

“I don’t see how that’s any business of yours.”

“When you ask me to look after your children, while you’re off seducing a girl half your age, then you make it my business. Are you having a midlife crisis, is that it? A beautiful wife and two gorgeous boys not enough for you?”

“Francesca, beautiful? All this time alone living like a peasant has screwed with your brain. The woman’s a bitch. All she cares about are her vacuous friends and her spa treatments.”

Privately Claire couldn’t disagree. She didn’t know her sister-in-law that well, but from what she could remember of her at the wedding years before, she didn’t have many redeeming features.

“You married her, Robert. For better or worse. I was there.”

“Grow up, Claire. No one believes in that, ‘’Til death do us part’ crap anymore. I grew tired of her whining and her constant demands.”

“So you threw her over for a younger model, leaving your boys stuck in the middle. Very mature, Robert, very grown up.”

“I’m not going to take relationship advice from my harlot of a little sister, who can’t even keep a man for more than a few months.”

Claire reeled from his words as if they were a blow. With rapid breaths, she took three quick strides across the room and slapped his smug, arrogant, face as hard as she could. She smiled in satisfaction as his head snapped back, even as the numbness and pain shot up her arm.

“Get out, Robert. Now.” She pointed at the door, ignoring the throbbing in her wrist. “Go and leave the boys with me. You don’t deserve them.”

Robert felt his cheek with fingers, before looking up with hatred in his eyes. “Are you insane?”

“No, I’m not. I’m perfectly lucid. I will take the boys to Mum’s house and they can stay there until Francesca comes to collect them. Or they can transfer to a British school and come and stay with me in the holidays. Anything has to be better than having you hurt them any more with your towering indifference.”

She panted, as if she’d run up the cliff from the sea, but her mind felt clear. Knowing she would regret it in the morning, Claire stalked past her brother and went to find Jack and Alex.

“Boys, come and say goodbye to your father, he and Gabriella are leaving.”

***

I Am Thankful: 2013 365 Challenge #333

Driving to the beach

Driving to the beach

Since my sister moved to the States a few years ago, and I linked up with my husband’s American cousin on Facebook, I’ve become more aware of the American holidays. Mostly we don’t celebrate them over here. Hallowe’en is only starting to take off, and Valentine’s Day was only significant in high school. Thanksgiving doesn’t happen at all, except on social media. But Thanksgiving is probably my favourite. I love the idea of a day to be thankful.

Christmas is one of my favourite holidays, but it’s always slighly marred by commercialism and the fact that I’m not particularly religious. But you don’t have to believe in God to be thankful.

Like saying “I love you” to my husband every day, rather just on February 14th, I do try to be grateful every day for what I have, although it’s easy to get wrapped up in the daily minutae of tedium and routine. Taking time to look around and acknowledge what is good is essential.

So, I am thankful. I’m thankful for my gorgeous husband and beautiful, clever, loving children. I’m grateful for my lovely house and my crazy dog. I’m grateful for a wonderful family. I’m thankful that my husband found work and we have enough money to buy the things we need. I’m grateful that I can write every day, and for the followers of my blog and the people who download my novels who keep me motivated. I’m thankful for sun and rain and fog, and being able to spend time outdoors everyday. For supermarkets and fresh fruit, chocolate and coffee. For my ipad and books and my car that lets me take my children out and about without hassle. I’m grateful for so much I could write and write. But maybe a few pictures will tell a thousand words.

Photo3913

Photo3921Photo3922photo (32)

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Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:

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Claire gazed out across the ocean and sighed. She could feel the entire country stacked up behind her, looking over her shoulder. She felt like she’d come a long way since her beginning in Berwick-Upon-Tweed, at the top of England.

“Are you alright, Auntie Claire?” Jack walked over to where she stood and hooked his arm through hers, his eyes dark with concern. The expression made him look much older than his ten years.

Claire patted his hand, touched at his surprising empathy. Two weeks ago she barely knew the boy, but they had become friends during their time travelling together in Cornwall.

“I’m fine, Jack, thank you for asking. It’s been a good couple of weeks, don’t you think?”

“The best! I can’t believe father’s coming to get us tomorrow. The time’s gone really fast. We didn’t even get to do everything. Did you know there’s a surf school here? Maybe we should go for just one last blast?”

Claire looked over to where Alex stood, his gaze on the phone in his hands rather than the amazing view from the end of the land.

“I’m not sure Alex would appreciate that. At least he’s happy that you’re going home.”

“He’s only happy because he gets to see his girlfriend again.” Jack put the emphasis of a ten-year-old on the word; clearly disgusted at his brother’s betrayal of all things male.

“That’s understandable. Two weeks is a long time when you’re twelve.” Claire smiled fondly at the moody boy standing along the cliff. She couldn’t claim to have broken through his tough barriers, but she had come to care for her eldest nephew more than she could have imagined possible a fortnight before.

“What about you, Jack?” She added, after a moment’s silence. “Will you be glad to get home?”

Her nephew stood silent for a while, and Claire wondered if he didn’t want to hurt her feelings by admitting he was looking forward to leaving. She was about to tell him it was natural to prefer his home and family and friends to an Aunt he barely knew, when he turned to face her. His cheeks burned red, and his eyes glistened.

“I’d much rather stay here with you,” he blurted out. “I don’t want to go home. Mother’s been wrapped up in her own little bubble since Dad left. She leaves us with the Au Pair and goes shopping or to the spa with her friends. And Father, well, that’s a joke. He’s so busy with his new lady friend I think he’s forgotten we exist.”

Claire raised her eyebrows at the news that Jack knew all about Robert’s new relationship.

I don’t know why I’m surprised. They’re bright boys and he’s hardly been discreet.

She wrapped her arm around Jack’s shoulder and pulled him into a hug, unsure what to say. The prospect of having the boys stay longer wasn’t anywhere near as terrible as it would have been two weeks earlier, but there was no doubt in her mind she was looking forward to some time by herself. It wasn’t even that the boys were an onerous responsibility – certainly not on the scale of caring for Sky – and they were good company, when they weren’t fighting. But, still, being responsible for someone else’s happiness took its toll.

“How about school? Will you be glad to go back there, after the long vacation?”

Jack shrugged. “I guess.”

Claire’s heart twisted at the empty resignation in his voice.

“Well, you’re welcome to come and visit any time. I have no idea where I’ll be, but if there’s a bed or floor for you two to sleep on, then it’s yours.”

She was surprised to discover that she meant it.

***

Pumpkin Carving: 2013 365 Challenge #301

Getting stuck into the pumpkin

Getting stuck into the pumpkin

Today was hubbie’s ‘day off” so, after taking an hour in the morning to write my post, I took the children to the Farm for some Hallowe’en half term fun.

Our local farm always has some great activities on during the school holidays. This time they had a room full of craft (great, considering a huge storm is about to hit the UK, so indoor activities are essential) as well as the spooky house tour and pumpkin carving.

We skipped the spooky house tour – I think I’d like an extra parent with me before attempting that with under fives – but the craft room was empty when we got there, so we had great fun making paper spiders and cobwebs, Hallowe’en masks and origami cats. We played spot the difference and did spooky word searches and Mummy had lots of fun doing colouring in! 🙂

After that we ventured outside into the sunshine and wind, to see the animals. The larger beasts all look a bit sorry for themselves, covered in mud and sheltering from the incoming winter. We were lucky though – apart from a wind strong enough to blow us away, the weather was lovely. It was so nice to be able to get outside for the first time in weeks.

Which face is more scary?

Which face is more scary?

The kids made sand castles, fed goats and ducks, and stroked the horses. We went to see the baby quail chicks – oh my goodness but they’re tiny (I didn’t have a camera, unfortunately): they’re a week old and still only about half the size of a kiwi fruit (you have no idea how long it took to come up with a size comparison that made sense either side of the Atlantic!)

Then came the pumpkin carving. This is the first year either of the children has been able to actually do any of the carving, although I noticed the delightful job of scooping out sticky seeds still came to Mummy. My son wanted to recreate his own face on his pumpkin, while daughter went for a cat. I have to say, they did a pretty good job! (Shame about the photos, but you get the idea).

After a lunch of chips and ice cream (The clocks went back last night, so they’d already had a decent brunch, thankfully!) we had one more trip round the animals before heading off to the supermarket. An hour of shopping and all three of us were exhausted. Unfortunately, I still had bath time to tackle when I got home. Poor daughter is ripping up her neck itching after her unwelcome visitors, so we took some Twitter advice and washed their hair in tea tree shampoo, (to much chorusing of “it stinks!” Hopefully the crawlers think so too).

An hour of Daddy tiring time and then to bed. Unfortunately, somewhere along the line I appear to have picked up a cold, so tonight’s post is a bit lacking in glamour. As it’s half term tomorrow and I get no childcare for a week, all the posts might be a little under par. I’ll do my best! 🙂 I’m off for a dinner of pumpkin soup now (shop bought, I confess) as I don’t have the energy to cook anything else and hubbie doesn’t really do cooking!

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Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:

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Claire had no idea what time it was as she swung the car into the hotel car park. Her twenty-year old banger didn’t have a dashboard clock and the black rectangle of her phone had as much life as a house brick.

I really ought to invest in a watch.

Smoothing down her trousers, Claire locked the car and headed into the hotel. As she walked, she let her heavy hair fall over her face. It wasn’t going to pass close scrutiny, but she could live without the curious stares of strangers as they tried to work out if she was injured or deformed.

The hotel lobby echoed with the clipping sound of her heels as she paced to the reception desk. When she spoke to the woman behind the counter she was surprised to hear a wobble in her voice.

“Hi, I’m meeting someone for dinner. I doubt he will have made reservations, is there somewhere I can wait?”

“Are you Miss Carleton?”

Claire’s face grew hotter, and she gave a minute nod.

“I’m so glad. Mr O’Keefe said he tried to call you, to inform you that he was running late, but was unable to contact you. Please wait in the lounge, and he’ll come and find you when he arrives.”

Damn, damn, damn.

Claire nodded her acquiescence at the receptionist and followed her directions to the lounge.

I can’t believe he tried to ring me when my phone was flat. Now he really is going to think I’m incompetent.

Claire ordered a latte and chose a seat in the dark shadows at the corner of the room. She wished she’d brought a book, and vowed to replace her much-missed tablet with her first pay cheque, assuming one actually arrived and Conor didn’t sack her for ineptitude in her first week.

For want of something to do, she pulled out the notes she’d made at the library, and tried to cram the information into her beleaguered brain. The facts and figures refused to stick. Her mind buzzed with concern at her boss’s imminent arrival and her body yelled in pain every time she shifted in her seat.

She had taken to counting the bottles behind the bar by the time she heard a familiar voice calling her name.

“I’m over here,” she replied, raising a hand, and making sure her hair still hung low over her face.

“Claire, hi, I’m so sorry I’m late. Last minute hiccup. I tried to call you.” Conor strode over to where she sat, wheeling a small case behind him and carrying a suit bag over his shoulder.

“Sorry, my battery died while I was out walking today and I didn’t get a chance to charge it. You know smart phones; they only stay charged for about ten minutes.” She kept her voice light and hoped that honesty was the best policy.

“Beautiful day for a hike. Where did you go? No, wait, let me just run these things up to my room. Why don’t you go through to the restaurant and I’ll meet you there?” He waited only for her to signal her agreement, and then he was gone.

Claire felt strangely flat, as she watched him weave his way through the tables and back out towards the lifts. As he disappeared out of sight, she had to remind herself this wasn’t a date, it was business.

***

Sofa Saturday: 2013 365 Challenge #272

Sofa Saturday

Sofa Saturday

We let the kids have a sofa Saturday today.

Weekends haven’t figured much in our lives, certainly not for the last year, with hubbie looking for work and the kids only in childcare a couple of times a week. But now my firstborn is at school, Saturday comes back into its own.

I had to write my post (I’ve been struggling with story line recently, and it’s easier to come up with ideas in the morning), so I filled the lounge with cushions and let the kids watch TV while I searched my brain for inspiration.

I’ve noticed that my daughter is taking more time to be by herself since starting school. Not surprising really, as her joint class has over fifty children. For someone who has spent most of her life with just her brother to play with, the volume of kids is completely overwhelming. She starts full time next week and I’m actually thankful the teachers are on strike on Tuesday, just to let her have a day’s breather in what will be a long and tiring week.

We finally coaxed her out of her pyjamas after lunch, and dragged the family to the farm, dog and all. It was a bit of a waste, as she could barely keep her eyes open and little man – who has marched into the tiresome threes with passion – was in full back-chat, pushing the limits mode. We came home and collapsed exhausted. With all the emotional upheaval and sleepless nights of this week, I think we all need to take it easy.

So, an early night for the little ones, a glass of wine and some homemade lasagne for hubbie and I, a decent dose of Strictly Come Dancing, and it’s about the perfect Saturday. Now to go and make some more misery for Claire. Poor lass.

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Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog: 

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Claire stared into the darkness, aware that her alarm would drag her from sleep in only a few hours. The need to rest pulled at her but her eyes wouldn’t close. The phone on the pillow next to her face remained stubbornly still. She willed it to shine with good news. Or any news. The wait stretched her nerves until she felt she might snap.

Around her, gentle breathing indicated the other sleepers in the room. Claire envied them their peace. The last person had stumbled in an hour before, bumping and bashing the bunks before crawling under the covers and starting to snore. For the first time, Claire found the sound soothing. Normal.

Her heart thudded out time in her chest and she tried to imagine what might be happening around the other side of the world, where the sun was probably high in the sky.

Why hasn’t he sent me a message? Surely he knows something by now.

The thought that he’d arrived too late, and was too distraught to contact her, ran over and over like a stuck record. Claire fought the repetition with words of her own.

She’s not dead. She’s not dead.

At last the phone flashed bright light into the darkness. The hammering in Claire’s chest increased in tempo, booming into the silence. Her hands shook as she reached for the phone and it took a while for her eyes to focus.

We’re in the hospital. She’d taken all her meds, but the docs have sorted it. Hoping she’ll be fine. Thank you, you saved her life. Come see her when you land, I think she needs you. J

Claire slumped back against the pillows and let the adrenalin flow from her limbs into the lumpy mattress. Relief, guilt, exhaustion, swirled around like smoke. With shallow breaths, Claire allowed the news to sink in.

She’s going to be okay. She has to be.

*

The alarm tore through Claire’s troubled dreams. Vivid images of chasing across an endless field after a fleeting shadow danced infront of her eyes, even as she blinked to ground herself in the present. There was no time to think. The coach was leaving early and she had to be on it.

It should have been an amazing day; the perfect finish to her journey around New Zealand. The coach took them through a pass in the mountains and down into Twizel. Around them the alps stretched magnificent to a clear blue sky, the snow-capped peaks dazzling with their brightness.

Claire felt encased in lead. The beauty couldn’t touch her. Her body still trembled with spent emotion and she had to resist the urge to text Jeff every five minutes for an update. It was night time back home: if he was asleep he deserved the rest.

They arrived at Lake Tekapo and Claire looked across at Mt Cook in the distance. The iconic image of New Zealand was as remote as if she were viewing it from home. The tranquility clashed with Claire’s urgency to be moving. The coach was too slow, the passengers too relaxed – spending just another five minutes soaking in the view, just another five minutes finishing their lunch, taking one last photograph.

Come on, come on! I’ve got a plane to catch.

Wishing she’d found the extra money to take an Intercity coach, Claire made sure she was always first on the bus, hoping her punctuality would ensure their timely departure.

*

They drove into Christchurch after the sun had set. Claire couldn’t bring herself to check the time. She already knew she was cutting it dangerously close, getting to the airport in time for check in.

Staring at Christchurch out the window, part of Claire’s brain regretted not having time to explore the garden city. From what she could see, it was very like Cambridge, with the canals and the punts, all tied up waiting for the morning.

With any luck I’ll be in the real Cambridge the day after tomorrow. That’s what’s important.

Claire wrapped her hand around the strap of her rucksack, already on the seat next to her ready for her to dash from the coach as soon as it stopped. The coach seemed to be barely moving, stuck in the city traffic.

The knots tightened in Claire’s stomach as she tried not to contemplate what horrors awaited her if she missed her flight.

***

The Longest Day: 2013 365 Challenge #264

Say Cheese!

Say Cheese!

Today feels like it’s gone on forever. Uploading photos for the post, I saw a picture of the kids eating ice cream in the coffee shop and was shocked when I remembered that was lunchtime today. Daughter went to school for three hours this morning, and hubbie took son shopping for pyjamas, while I painted a shark (photo tomorrow) and wrote my post.

After school (only a morning session) we had lunch at the coffee shop (because Mummy has forgotten to buy food this week), home for quiet time, and then I took son to the Farm so Daddy and daughter could clean the house, ready for the birthday party tomorrow. There is still a lot to do.

It doesn’t help that I seem to be in a low point at the moment, and have been randomly sobbing for most of the day over trivial things, like not having any reviews on my book yet, despite asking friends who have read it to please at least give a star rating on Goodreads. I know reviews are as much a curse as a blessing, but for me a book doesn’t feel published until it’s had a review.

Enjoying the sun

Enjoying the sun

Then, of course, there are the dismal download numbers for my Dragon Wraiths free promo. I didn’t push it much, because I had other things to do today, but it’s still disappointing when you can’t even give your book away! Thankfully that’s the last free promo I need to worry about, as DW comes out of KDP Select next week, hurrah.

It’s frustrating the random things that seem to crash my brain when I’m already struggling. Stupid things, like worrying that the boys won’t like having pizza and chips for lunch at the party tomorrow, or the mummies will frown at its unhealthiness.

Or reading a blog post this morning about judgmental mummies and realising I can be a bit quick to judge by appearances, despite knowing how stupid that is.

All in all I probably feel about as good now as I did three years ago, when I sat eating fish and chips with my toddler, while hubbie was away in London on a work’s outing to a Dara O’Brien gig, and my waters broke – five weeks early.

Sand shark, sand boat

Sand shark, sand boat

My mum had to leave behind her half-cooked dinner and take me to hospital nearly an hour away – a hospital I hadn’t even visited, because my tour was scheduled for the following week.

I went in with a book to read and some clean pants, expecting to be there a few hours as was the case when my waters broke early with my first child, and I came home ten days later.

It’s the most surreal time of my life and quite possibly the start of my postnatal depression. There’s nothing like sending a control freak to hospital five weeks early and trapping her there to start a downward spiral.

Anyway, it’s been a long tough rewarding love-filled sleep-deprived three years, but I survived and I have a gorgeous boy to make it worth every moment of pain (as well as a beautiful daughter who is the best big sister in the world). Happy birthday little man.

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Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog: 

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Claire waved at the minibus and it pulled up beside her. A tanned man in his thirties beamed at her through the window, before jumping down and opening the door for her to get in.

“G’day, you must be Claire. Welcome to the tour.” He checked her name off against a clipboard, then ran back round the bus.

With a quick glance at the other passengers, Claire found a free seat and gazed out the window. There were only five or six people on the bus and she wondered if there were more people to collect. Her question was soon answered as the driver turned round to address the group.

“It’s just us today, folks, so should be a lovely quiet trip out to the peninsular. None of you are booked on the Albatross Experience, so we’ll spend a short time up at Taiaroa Head and see if we can spot some flying in. It’s the only mainland albatross colony in the world. Then we’ll head out to the beach and see the rest of the wildlife. Any questions just holler and I’ll try and answer them.”

As the bus pulled away, Claire revelled in the silence of a small group. It felt strange to be in a vehicle smaller than a coach, but it was great to be able to see the streets around her as they left the city.

Albatross at Taiaroa Head

Albatross at Taiaroa Head

Before long they were driving round a bay, heading for the Otago peninsular. The road hugged the coast as they made their way to the albatross centre. Overhead, blue sky blazed in between the pure white clouds scudding past.

At last the minibus climbed up a winding lane and arrived outside a long low building. The wind hit them like a wall as they headed for the bluff. Claire tugged her jacket closer and bent her head into the wind.

“Good weather for flying,” the driver yelled over the noise. “They need good lift to keep them airborne; they’re big birds. Keep yer eyes peeled.”

Claire gazed up at the sky, blinking away the tears dragged out by the wind. She wasn’t so sure she was bothered about seeing a giant seagull and wondered if the centre sold coffee. Tucking her hands under her arms to keep them warm, she stamped her feet and looked about to see what the other passengers were doing. She didn’t want to go inside and get left behind.

One of the couples were shouting at each other and pointing at the sky. Claire thought they were fighting, then realised they had seen something. Following the direction of their gesturing, she saw an enormous bird circling low before disappearing behind the building.

“Wow!” Even though she knew that albatrosses were big birds, nothing had prepared her for just how large.

“Keep watching. It’ll come back out shortly.”

Claire kept her eyes trained on the sky, while reaching for her phone to take a picture. As predicted, the bird re-emerged and Claire grabbed some shots, sure the bird would only be a tiny speck when she looked at the images later.

Buoyed by the experience, the passengers chatted together as they headed back to the bus. Claire wasn’t sure if the couples all knew each other, or were just being friendly. She didn’t feel like talking, so she hung at the back near the driver.

“Right, next stop sea lions. We’ll drive through the wetlands so you can see the sea birds and waders, but it’ll be good to get down to the beach fairly early, the weather often shifts later in the afternoon.”

Claire let the driver’s words wash over her, glad for once to follow along like a sheep. Despite the cost of the tour, this was the real New Zealand and she was happy to enjoy every minute.

The next hour passed in a blur of bird names and beautiful scenery. Claire realised how little she actually knew about any sort of wildlife, as the other passengers discussed this and that type of bird. She breathed a sigh of relief when they finally pulled up at the sea lion beach. This was what she had come for.

Hooker sea lions

Hooker sea lions

“Right. Just some rules before we reach the beach. These fellas are huge, but they won’t attack unless provoked. Don’t get between a sea lion and the sea and, whatever you do, don’t turn your back on them. If need be, run.”

Claire laughed, sure the driver was joking. He raised an eyebrow at her, and chuckled.

“We had an American tourist chased off the beach only last week. They move pretty fast for big creatures.” Seeing her grin, he added, “The sea lions. I couldn’t comment on the gentleman.”

The walk down to the beach tested Claire’s balance, and she tried not to think about how hard it was going to be to walk back up. Her muscles were already sore from the climb up Baldwin Street.

All this tour bus travelling is making me soft.

Suddenly a roar cut through the silence and Claire felt goosebumps rise on her arms beneath her jacket.

“Sounds like some of the young males are getting boisterous.” The driver’s voice came up the hill to Claire. “Should be good viewing.”

As they reached the beach Claire understood what he meant. Out in the middle of the sand, three or four giant beasts roared at each other, heads swaying, mouths wide. Claire shivered and turned her attention to the driver, determined to walk exactly where he did across the sand.

They made their way around behind the creatures, stopping at a hide to take some photographs. Then they were taken up to a grass covered sand dune, all of them following the guide into a wooden hut.

Penguins coming in at dusk

Penguins coming in at dusk

“It’s nearly time for the penguins to come in from the sea. As the sun goes down, they’ll come up the beach in groups; keeping a watch for the sea lions who might be after a tasty evening snack.”

Claire hunkered down to watch, ignoring the quiet chatter of the couples behind her. It was a magical place. She’d never seen such animals in the wild before. She couldn’t even remember the last time she’d been to a zoo.

Watching the little penguins run in from the sea and make their way up the grassy hillside, Claire was conscious of a deep warmth within her chest. All the years she’d spent inside an office, surrounded by glass and steel, wires and technology, made no sense to her anymore. Here, shivering in a hut on a hillside, watching yellow eyed penguins scurry and scamper for their homes up impossibly steep terrain, seemed more real than anything in her own life.

She had no idea what the future held, but she was certain it wasn’t going to be in a concrete cage.

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