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Now isn’t that just the million dollar question?

If you’d told me 3 months ago that I’d be sitting typing this from our old house at Knaith Park, I’d have laughed at you. Hard.

And then laughed some more.
Because it would have been a ludicrous thought.
Ridiculous.
And I’d have told you so.And then I’d have laughed a bit more.
And probably drunk some more wine.

Yet here we are.

Nik is working on his ‘new’ van in the garage, I am on the laptop in the office, El is at school and Jake is…not.

We did get them both registered in the local school at they started back in January. Well, I say ‘they’.  J never really started properly. It very quickly became apparent that just expecting him to pop right back in to an English school – ANY school – was really not going to just happen.
And so he isn’t.
In school, I mean.

Currently, he is on a 4 week study-at-home period and school have sent work home for him to do while we wait(ed) for an appointment to come through with CAMHS. Well, they sent some ridiculously long maths sheets, and a couple of other things which I can only assume are perhaps English stuff (one definitely is, one I’m not sure what subject it originated from! It’s more like Business Studies!) which he’s worked through gradually, but oh my god how DULL! To be sitting at the kitchen table for hours on end doing maths worksheets? Really?

I mean, I love maths as much as the next maths geek but even I’d get bored with it (J actually doesn’t mind), and really, what are we achieving? He’s missed term 1 of year 10. He’s missing term 2 of year 10. Even if CAMHS could work a miracle, I honestly cannot see him going back to school this year, let alone this term!
And then where are we?A teen in year 11 having done NO GCSE work in school whatsoever.

No, I’m sorry, but that won’t do. The timing is all icky and it just won’t work.

That leaves two options.

1) Assuming miracle cure from CAMHS, he starts back a year at year 10 again. This is a bad option because a) miracle cures don’t exist and b) who wants to go back a year.

2) We homeschool him. (That hyperlink probably answers a whole ton of your questions right now!)

There, I said it.

The more I research it and talk about it, the more it seems like the only option. If he were in year 9 even, it’d be less of a problem but he stands more chance of learning anything properly if we’re doing it at home than the way things are going currently.

Exams are dependent on finding a school that will allow private candidates to sit them (a lot do but we may need to look at Lincoln or Scunthorpe) but it’s doable.

I can do Maths with him. I’m fairly certain we can get through Maths GCSE (or IGCSE) between us. We’re both strong in that area and I’m confident he can do well.
For English, I will source an online GCSE course such as Catherine Mooney. Her course comes highly rated and recommended. It’s not my forte, and I would not feel at all confident judging/assessing any written work.

We might look at a combined science GCSE but we might not. I’m more keen, from an exams point of view, to concentrate on areas in which he has genuine interest. We’re looking at IT-related courses. Perhaps ECDL and following some courses based around 3D design and printing. Something that he might have actual enthusiasm about.

Makes sense, right?

We perhaps don’t need to go quite THIS far back to basics!

Part of me is sad that my bright teenager has ended up losing the opportunity to excel in school.  I know he would have done, under the right circumstances.

But these circumstances aren’t the right ones.
I honestly believe that he WILL still excel, but in his own time; on his own schedule and not in some school-timetabled-cookie-cutter-universal time-frame.
We’re having to look at ‘education’ in a whole other way, and I’m using the opportunity to create something for J that he can USE, something he can be interested in and about excited about doing each day. Whether it works or not remains to be seen, but the status quo isn’t working so why keep fighting it. The outcome could be a lot worse if we do.

Aaaaaanyway, on a chirpier note, El has settled well into school. He’s made new friends and has a few favourite subjects (Drama, PE, anything in which he can make a mess (Art, Cookery, Tech generally)) and seems OK. Some days he’s loving it. Others he’s tolerating, but I think he will be OK for now. He takes the bus to and from school each day and seems to have grown up quite a bit with the move. I need to keep reminding myself to keep a reign on him though. He’s such an independent little thing that it’s easy to forget that he’s only 11 (I forget, he forgets, it’s a group thing!)

So we are sort of settled. Business is good, and we have lots of ideas to make it better and grow. We have J’s initial appointment with CAMHS. We’ll see what they say about him. It won’t change my school decision but I will discuss it with school so they understand the problem. I can’t see them being able to accommodate him and keep him on track, even if he does find himself able to return.

If you’d told me 3 months ago that I’d be sitting typing this from our old house at Knaith Park, I’d have laughed at you.
If you’d then told me that I’d be planning to deregister Jake from school and homeschool him, I’d probably have called the men in white coats for you and helped them load you into their van!

Funny how life goes, huh?

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I have a spare while, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to update the blog.

We’ve been back in the UK since Sunday, and can I just take this opportunity to say “Brrrrrrr!”?

If you’re not used to the freezing cold, winter is really not the time to be moving back! That said, the whole Christmas holiday period certainly does help. It’s quieter for us with work, and there are more opportunities to catch up with family and friends, which all goes to soften the blow.

A bit.

It’s a shock coming back. That’s obvious, I’m sure. But what surprises me more is how much relief I feel already. It’s almost as if I’ve spent 4 years in Portugal holding my breath and NOW I can exhale. What’s weird is that it didn’t feel like that at the time. Maybe it’s just the accumulation of stresses and issues that led to our return that have amplified that feeling so much, I don’t know, but there’s a huge sense of relief that I feel right now, which is so completely opposite to how I felt when we initially left on Sunday.

It’s not all over, by any means. We still have big hurdles here. School, for starters. I’ve sent off their mid-year admissions forms, and I’m now playing the waiting game to see if any of our chosen schools have vacancies. I am hoping that our first choice will – because I really didn’t have a second or third choice – but what will be will be. It can only be better than what they have been through. (I’m saying that with a certain amount of denial, by the way)

Likewise, we have other challenges. Car insurance has been difficult, and even our home isn’t available to us for another couple of weeks (in the meantime, we are blessed to have a very accommodating family) and even then we have to completely redecorate before we can move in. That’s quite a job, but it’ll be so much easier to do while it’s empty. Unfortunately, it also means that we’ll be spending the Christmas and New Year period with paintbrushes in hand. Again though, the quieter work season helps.

What won’t help, however, is our new addition!

Meet Zac. How completely adorable is he? We’re hoping to pick him up on Monday. Nik has wanted another Springer Spaniel for years, and Eliot has ALWAYS been desperate for a dog. Nik grew up around working Springers, training and breeding them, and he has always said that, as soon as we lived somewhere that would accommodate one, he would get another. Well, it might be a little premature from the housing point of view (and he probably expected that the “somewhere” would be in Portugal, not the UK!), but some things are just meant to be.

He was only 20 or so miles away, and for a 5 month old Springer, his temperament was lovely. He comes from good pedigree, show grandparents and a working line of gun dogs with good temperament, and he is utterly gorgeous. Eliot and Nik were instantly in love, and I have to admit that even I was taken with him. For a pup, he was so well behaved.

We had already arranged to have a night away tonight so we couldn’t bring him back right away, but we’ll fetch him as soon as we get back. And we’ll make the most of what will be our final night away until he’s older, fully trained and vaccinated and able to be put into kennels!

For Nik in particular, he will soften the blow of having to come back to England. We’ve got to make the most of it, and this is our start. We have lots of business plans and ideas that will help us too: things we couldn’t have done from further away which we can do from here.

The boys are both so much calmer already. Granted, they haven’t started school yet, and that will bring a whole other set of stresses as they settle in wherever they are, but Jake already seems like a different person. It’s baby steps. One issue at a time, and we’ll deal with what’s left when we’ve tackled the first layers.

Maybe it was just our time, but I actually don’t feel like we’ve made the wrong decision at all.

And who’d have ever thought I’d be saying that from 2 degrees C in the UK in December?

merrychristmas

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There’s news.

Some people already know, most don’t: we are moving back to England.

We don’t want to. None of us want to, but we have to salvage the boys’ education before it is too late. If we had more time or more money, we could probably sort it here, but, at this stage of Jake’s schooling, it’s too late. The only way we can pick up the pieces now, is to get back into the English school system as quickly as possible with the hope that the boys then manage to get through with some qualifications – ANY qualifications – because, at the stage they are both at right now, it’s more than they will manage here.

So, that’s what we are doing: returning to England. Soon. Like, next week.

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a rash or sudden decision.
It will seem like it to everybody else, but it’s been something we’ve been quietly handling for a while, and with the addition of some health problems that one of us has been suffering with lately, it’s time.

So there you are.

The lorry is (all being well) picking up our stuff late next week and we are flying over soon after.

We have a ton of stuff to sort. The apartment this end, our house at the other end (it currently has tenants who now have notice), moving temporarily into the home of a family member who has very kindly offered us the use of her home until ours is vacant again, not to mention getting the boys into school.

So much to do.

So I’d better get back to packing boxes.

See you on the other side.
Maybe I’ll be able to get my thoughts on “paper” (virtually speaking) better then.

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Something I’ve learned this week: NEVER get too comfortable!

I swear that, no sooner do you say out loud that things seem settled, something will come along and kick you in the shins.

And surprise, surprise, if that “something” isn’t school!

As regular readers will know (well, if you’ve been reading since “the beginning” anyway),  when we moved in 2010, getting the kids sorted at school was one of our biggest nightmares.
I mean, it would be, wouldn’t it? It’s one of the most important!

We thought we’d done as we were asked. We got all English school reports (including an extra letter from the school says “Child A passed/failed” which they INSISTED on) officially translated (at significant cost!), got vaccinations up-to-date and obtained what seemed like every piece of documentation under the sun and, eventually, they seemed happy.

You know how they say never count your chickens until they’ve hatched?
Well, turns out these eggs have a FOUR YEAR incubation period!

This one made me giggle!

This one made me giggle!

Yesterday, I got a call from the secretary at the head school of the Agrupamento. She informed us that we should have had our original UK school reports officially “stamped” as well as translated. As far as I can understand, it’s so that it legitimises the report (ie. verifies that it’s from a genuine bone fide UK school and not something we knocked up on the internet.)
I get that, I do. What irks me is being asked for it NOW, not four years ago.

Why?

Well, because NOW, it’s urgent. Urgent because both boys have exams and could potentially move schools this year.

So it’s urgent now.
Of course it is.

So now I’m to-ing and fro-ing from British Embassy departments to Ministry of Education and other Consular departments.

School wasn’t 100% sure which (of their many hundreds of them) stamp I needed, just that it needed  to come from the Consulate. The British Embassy are fairly certain it’s the Legalisation department that I need, to get the UK school reports stamped as official, but asked me to check with the Ministry of Education. The Ministry of Education couldn’t give me someone to whom I could speak English, so I gave up and emailed instead. Not holding my breath there!

I’m now waiting for the Legalisation Office, whose phone line is only operative between midday and 4pm – what?, to open so I can find out what I need to do next.

Seems as though we’ll need to send all the documents (originals, of course) to their Milton Keynes office for processing. At a cost, of course.

Meantime, we’re all stressed now.

Boys aren’t stressed enough though.
They need to study and won’t. In a nutshell, if they don’t study, they’re going to fail. Maybe then they will realise. Perhaps it’s what they need: to fail. For purely selfish reasons, I’d prefer Eliot to pass so he can move to the school around the corner from us and cut out a twice-daily school run. If Jake passes (big IF. Very big if) he will move to one of the Secundaria schools in town, depending on what he wants to study. That’s a whole OTHER can of worms which, while I’d love to discuss and share, right now I just can’t be bothered.

So anyway, yeah.

I guess the moral of the story is “Don’t get too comfy”.

keep-calm-and-don-t-get-too-comfortable-JPG

 

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Now, I must thank my teenager for the topic of my “Y is for” post, because there is no way in a million years that I’d ever have come up with it!
He said it in jest, but as soon as he did, I thought, “Yes! Perfect!”

Y is for YOLO

Some people have, I think, a natural leaning towards “going for it”, whatever ‘it’ happens to be. Some people, however, have an inbuilt caution – a fear, perhaps – of doing anything out of the ordinary; of putting themselves out there and taking a chance.

Even as kids, there’s a split. Mine, for example, are very much 50/50. I have one go-getter and one who definitely is not (oddly, the one who gave me YOLO!)

I spent most of my life playing it safe. Since getting married, we had never even lived outside our settled area, but every time we holidayed, we were taunted by what else is out there. I don’t just mean in a “grass is greener” sense. Everywhere can look idyllic and wonderful when you’re only on holiday there for a fortnight. You don’t get to see the mundane, every day life of a place which could quite easily be just as dull, boring and humdrum as the grass you have right there at home.

I think that’s what makes making a decision to actually leave your “safe zone” so hard. You really don’t KNOW that anything is going to be any better until you actually GET there. You have to research, weigh up, make your decision and commit with a “nothing ventured, nothing gained” attitude.

Sure, it’s scary. Sure, it might not be as wonderful and perfect as you hoped. Sure, there’ll be days when you wonder what on earth you were thinking, but there might just be days, weeks, months or years when you know you did the right thing; when you look out of the window and see your kids playing with the local children (yeah, ok, so anybody who knows us will know this would only ever apply to ONE of our boys!), chattering away in their now-fluent second language as if it was the most natural thing in the world.
New friends are made, both in and out of school.

Eliot’s birthday trip to Aqualand with his schoolfriend André

Eliot playing with local kids at the Skate Park

You’ll find yourself sitting outside a cafe, in the middle of winter, with a cold beer or a coffee, imagining how different it would be if you hadn’t made that move.

Late November at the Marina

and ice creams in January

Or playing on the beach in February, stripped down to t shirts as if summer had arrived.

Yes, it really was February!

Having visitors is a treat that we never really had in the UK. We enjoy even more days out when they are shared with friends and family.

Nik’s cousin Andy (and Nik’s Mum) during Andy’s 40th birthday visit last year

My mad sister!

And not forgetting the wonderful friends that we ourselves have made since our arrival here.

Friends!

So yes, maybe it’ll be the right choice or maybe it’ll be a big mistake, but one thing’s for certain, if you don’t try it you’ll NEVER know. Can you live with that?

yolo_logo

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Goodness knows, I’ve asked myself that a lot since we moved here in July 2010.

There’s no denying that moving to a different country with children is a very difficult thing to do. However much you tell yourself you’re doing it for “the greater good”, there are worries and doubts at every step of the way.

Obviously, these doubts and worries are not helped by plunging those children into a foreign language school environment. In fact, I think that language is, and probably always will be, our number one hurdle.

confused

There is only so much preparation you can do before moving to a foreign country. You can visit and research local areas, amenities, schools etc. What you can’t do, unless you happen to be fluent in a second language already (that’s you AND your family, of course) is remove the language barrier completely. Some basic language skills in advance are a good thing, of course, but they really won’t prepare you for what it’s like to be surrounded by it 24/7!

I’d be lying if I said that our boys’ education hasn’t suffered in some way. Jake used to be a Maths whizz in his UK school. Now he struggles, even in this subject. His first 2 years here, he actually did really well. He passed both years and seemed to be doing ok. He’s been having one-on-one Portuguese lessons at home, for an hour a week, for around 18 months now and these have definitely helped. Jake has gone from “I am NEVER speaking Portuguese” to being (or claiming to be) fairly confident. He says he doesn’t feel that way any more. That’s definitely a step in the right direction.

In his first term of year 8, however, it seemed like we’d taken huge steps backwards. He went from only failing the “least likely to scrape through” subjects, to failing, well, nearly all of them! 6 negatives on his end of term report were a real shock. They’ve prompted change though and I’m hopeful that the changes we’ve made will help. His end of second term report will tell us, I suppose.

Eliot is also struggling. He was held back last year and remains in year 3. This was a good thing really because he needs the extra time in the lower classes and his teacher tells us he has improved a fair bit. There’s no denying his verbal Portuguese skills are confident but reading and writing lags behind. His reading in English, however, is very good (something which bemuses us because nobody has actually taught him this!) and that’s reassuring. His Portuguese reading will catch up. Now he just needs to learn to spell. Either language would be good!

Jake’s last report plunged me into doubt and regret, of course, and renewed all the “are we doing the right thing?” feelings. I actually ran through my mind how returning to the UK could be better. For Jake, perhaps the move back wouldn’t be a problem in his education (in fact, the stuff he’s learning/studying here is far beyond the UK equivalent school curriculum) but it would be a huge problem for Eliot. When we moved here, Eliot was held back a year. He was also held back again last year. This means he is currently in year 3 (which, in Portugal, isn’t a problem as there are many 9 year olds in year 3) but his UK “peers” and old school friends are in year 5. Even if we returned to the UK next school year, he’d be at least 2 years behind everyone he knew and that can’t be a good thing.

Does that make me feel any better? Does it hell?!

It’s not just the kids that throw up doubts and worries, of course. Work is a constant fear. Running our own business remotely puts a lot of pressure on. There’s no steady income. If we don’t get sales, we don’t make money and, if we don’t make money, we can’t transfer it here to live on! We don’t make a huge amount of money (we pretty much live off our 2 minimum director’s salaries here) but  we still have to cover that transfer each month. Most months, it’s OK. Some months, the quiet ones (and don’t all businesses have those?!) are quite unnerving. As anybody who relies on this sort of self-employed income will know, it’s hard and a constant worry.

Oh hell, that really sounds like it’s all doom and gloom! It’s not of course. Aside from money worries and kids, everything is fine!

*insert maniacal panicked laughter here*

There’s a fine line between worrying unnecessarily and sticking your head in the sand.

Here, have a sunny photo to brighten things up!

My beautiful boy. January 2013

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It’s taken me a while to get chance to sit down and continue this A to Z. I’m starting to think that the entire alphabet is going to last more than a year. That’s something I never could have imagined at the start! Still, it’s a nice project to be getting on with and a bit of motivation to do more than just post photos on Facebook each time we do something fun!

Anyway, I’ve had my P topic for a while. Actually, I had several ideas for my P topic but lately which one to choose has become clearer.

P is for Priorities

In order to make our move to Portugal, we had to take a good look at our priorities.

Our life in England was comfortable. We had modest income (topped up with tax credits) to allow us to be self-employed and spend some time with our boys but we constantly felt restricted. There was little around us locally that inspired us, as a family and it’s no secret that we’d had itchy feet for a long time.

A move abroad, however, would come with huge sacrifices and definitely required us to look long and hard at our priorities.

In the UK, we could live comfortably in our own home and not have any real worries about money. We had our own 3 bed home with large garden in a pretty outlying village. We had a nice, smart, modern car. We could be in full control of our own business. We could visit family and friends whenever we felt like it. We would be in as much control of our lives as is possible to guarantee in this day and age.  Despite this, we weren’t settled.

In Portugal, there is always a concern that we won’t make ends meet. We work hard to ensure that our business makes enough money to cover our basic living expenses plus a little extra but, in order to do that, we have had to significantly change the way we work. We’ve had to sub-contract out various parts of our business and rely on others working with us. This is a scary position to be in, I can tell you.

We also now live in rental accommodation, something we’ve never done before. Our housing situation is also a little out of our hands as we are constantly aware that our landlady could decide to sell, if she so wanted (fortunately, she has other, empty properties she could sell first and that’d be difficult enough in a stagnant property market!) We had also had to take in tenants in our UK house and this puts another financial strain on our household. All well and good while the tenants are in but a huge burden should they decide to move on.

We own an old banger of a car. But not a cheap car. Oh no. There is no such thing as a cheap car here in Portugal. We now own the oldest car we’ve ever owned (it’s 15 years old) which cost us the most we’ve ever paid for a vehicle!

We’re now half a day or more from family and UK friends. The boys have lost contact with many of their school friends they grew up with and we’ve all had to find new friends in a foreign land.

Life here isn’t easy, by a long shot. It’s financially unstable and, at time, emotionally draining.

However, at the same time, it is beautiful and full of new opportunities.

Ponta de Piedade

Ponta de Piedade

Despite having less money, we are surrounded by things to do.

With the beach just a few minutes walk away, we can visit all year and enjoy the ever-changing scenery it presents us.

A trip to the beach in July

Meia Praia Beach in February!

The boys have both made new friends in school and Eliot, in particular, is happy to find friends where-ever he goes. He can be bossy in TWO languages now!

Boys playing with new friends at the Skate Park, Lagos

We have made some great friends ourselves and now get to spend quality time with them too, often enjoying outdoor visits, picnics, meals and new places together.

Our newly made good pals Dave and Aly (wave, guys!)

As well as making new friends, UK family and friends visit us here which is something that never happens in England!

My little sis on one of her (many!) visits

We get to learn about and share in a new Portuguese way of life, with it traditions and festivals.

Loulé Carnival 2012

And, as the Algarve typically has few weeks of bad weather per year, for 90+% of the year, all this happens in the sun, of course!

Sunrise on Meia Praia Beach

So, yes. We’ve made sacrifices with our move to Portugal.

We’ve sacrificed income, control, our own home, a nice car, ease of communication and having family on our doorstep.

In return, we have beautiful days, fabulous places, great friends and regular visitors.

A fair trade-off? I’d say so.

It’s all about priorities, innit?

It’s a hard life but someone’s gotta do it!

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