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Two posts in as many weeks! I know, right! Actually, I have my V planned too so that’ll be along shortly!

Meantime…

U is for Ups and Downs

kidsjump

Let nobody ever tell you that moving to another country – and I’m sure this doesn’t just apply to leaving your home country. A major domestic move can be just as tricky – is easy!

Some days, you’ll look out at the rolling waves, the clear, blue skies and the warm sunshine and all will be right with the world.

Some days, however, no amount of beauty will make you believe that you did the right thing.

It’s not all blue skies and positivity

Recently, we – well, I – had a particularly wobbly moment when I truly believed that everything we had done in our three years here was a mistake.
I won’t go into too much depth but we had a bit of a to-do with Eliot which resulted in him accusing us of ruining his life by bringing him to Portugal and taking him away from his friends and his native language.

Unfortunately, my psyche at that time agreed with him and I sat for some considerable length of time, in floods of tears, ready to pack my bags and move us all back to England the very same day.

Fortunately, Jake stepped up and said that he was happy here, and this went some way towards bringing my emotions back to a more rational level.

Now, those of you who don’t know Jake very well probably won’t think too much of this, but those who do will appreciate that this kind of admission wouldn’t have come lightly from my 13-year-old. He has struggled constantly (and, for the most part, silently and tolerantly) since we moved here. He’s a quiet, unsociable sort so settling in was (and still is, to a certain degree) difficult for him, so for him to come out and say this, was a HUGE thing. I think that’s why it affected me so much.

Eliot, on the other hand, at 10-years-old, is a hot-head. He’s out-going, confident and temperamental. This has meant that his settling in at school has been somewhat easier than Jake’s, but his outburst just reminded us, I think, that it’s not all plain sailing for him; for either of them, in fact.

There comes a point where, when you change country with kids, you kind of reach a point of no return. They’ve now had 3 years of Portuguese schooling, and I cannot even begin to imagine how they could just settle back into an English curriculum again. We’re past that point now, I’m certain of it.

It’s not all doom and gloom though.

Eliot at Praia da Rocha for sunset.

At the skate park (which is usually MUCH busier!)

Our Eliot, he’s an outdoor-sy kinda kid. Once the wobble was over, he settled back into everyday life and went back to enjoy being able to spend weekends at the beach or the skate park. He’s even started walking home from school on his own several days a week (it’s about a 15-20 minute walk for him from school to our apartment).

This is a big thing for him. It gives him the opportunity to feel like a big kid, and he likes that. When he moves to Jake’s school (hopefully next year), he’ll only have a 5 minute walk and he is enjoying the freedom right now. He doesn’t do it every day. He does 2 days until 4pm (usually finish time) and 3 days til 5.30 (when he has PE twice after school and Science once). At the moment, it’s looking like he is happy to walk at 4pm and sometimes after science but he prefers not to after PE (which is kinda understandable. I wouldn’t want to after an hour of running about either!)

He’s a pretty independent sort really. He has his whole life planned out already. He really could NOT be any more different to his big brother!

So, anyway. Suffice to say that it’s not all sunshine, sandy beaches and cheap beer when you move abroad. Sometimes, there are seemingly endless grey skies (metaphorically speaking, of course), and it helps to remind ourselves once in a while, that nothing is perfect but everything usually turns out OK in the end.

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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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It seems like ages since I posted a school update although, I suppose, it probably is!

Well, the school year is over and we’re 2 weeks in to the long, long, long summer holidays*

I have to admit, the holidays are easier for us this year, now that I’m not working for anyone except us any more. While this does mean we have a sizeable drop in income, it also means I have more time (well, more flexible time) to spend with my boys and, as long as we are still managing financially**, that’s worth more to us. I still do design work, if a client requests it though. That extra money is definitely always welcome!

So, end of another school year and definitely a different vibe to last year.

Last year, it was all something of an unknown. We hadn’t realised that Jake, being in year 6, would have big end-of-year exams in Maths and Portuguese in order to move from 2nd cycle to 3rd. Quite how he managed to pass those I have no idea. I guess we’re fortunate that he is intelligent enough in Maths to get a good grade and lift him out of the “automatic fail” group (which a failure in both Maths and Portuguese could be)

Year 7 has been a challenge for him though. Academically, it has been far more intense than Year 6 as there have been more subjects (Year 6 General science became 2 Science subjects in year 7. History and Geography split from one subject into 2)

There was a complete change of teachers, in all subjects, and an almost complete change of classmates as the classes are “scrambled” between each year and only a handful of his year 6 classmates were in the same year 7 class as Jake.

That said, Jake has coped admirably. Apart from some early wobbles with his Maths teacher (what is it about Maths teachers?!), he’s had a good year.

Results came out last Saturday and Jake, much to his relief, passed year 7 with flying colours! (in fact, coming 5th in his class of 21, with 4 students not passing at all!)

Well done, Jake!

So we’re all looking forwards to year 8, when they eventually go back in September.

Yesterday, we had Eliot’s school teacher meeting although we’d already been told his result. Actually, should I say, Eliot was told first, he told us and I had to confirm with his teacher at the end-of-term party.

Escola EB1 Meia Praia End of term mini show and party

Eliot hasn’t done so well this year. In fact, despite having a support teacher for 3 sessions a week this year, he seems to have progressed less this year than he did last year (come back, Professora Ana, all is forgiven!)

He’s had little or no homework and, apart from a huge improvement in both his oral and aural Portuguese, has gained little. He still struggles to comprehend written Portuguese and write Portuguese. All perfectly normal, under the circumstances, of course (Jake has had private lessons all year to help his. Eliot hasn’t) but it has meant that, unfortunately, Eliot didn’t pass year 3 this year.

In fact, this is actually a good thing. He has so much more to learn before he can enter year 4. Year 4 heralds the end of 1st cycle school and comes with big exams at the end of it. He’s a long way off getting there. Repeating year 3 will be a huge benefit to him. He probably should have repeated year 2 but hey, that’s in the past.

Obviously, he was pretty upset about “failing”. We’ve tried to explain to him that it’ll help him a lot to repeat year 3 and he’s starting to understand that. His classmates from year 3 will still be in his “class”, because they are a mixed year 3 and 4 class anyway, so that definitely softens the effect slightly.

In fact, yesterday, at the parents’ meeting, we also learned that, next year, due to class numbers, his class will consist of years 1, 3 and 4! (I can only assume that year 2 is a large group!)

That class mix might sound slightly strange (although remember that last year his class was years 1, 2, 3 and 4!) it will actually work to Eliot’s advantage. His teacher (whoever that might be. It may not be Professor Nuno again) will be able to involve Eliot in some of the year 1 work which could benefit him greatly and enable him to pick up some of those missing “basics” alongside his modified year 3 work.

I’m sure it must be difficult for a teacher to manage but, hopefully, it will be helpful for Eliot. Even if his homework is year 1 and his school work his adapted year 3 (they do adapt his standard curriculum work, to a certain degree, also), it should be much better for his progress. Meantime, he’s been sent home with four Year 2 books to do “holiday homework” from. Lucky boy!

So, as we head into the 3 month summer holidays, there are mixed emotions Chez Hand. Fortunately, we have lots to look forwards to. Visitors and visiting, days out and, no doubt, the occasional day when we batten down the hatches and hide from the sun!

Eliot and I are heading to London for a few days next week as a birthday treat for him. It’s something I did with Jake a couple of times, while we were in England and he was littler, but I’ve never done with Eliot. Needless to say, he’s very excited about playing tourist and staying with Aunty Wendy.

Nik and Jake will be left home. This doesn’t bode well for getting anything done. Xbox 24/7 is likely to be order of the day(s)! I won’t bother with a “while I’m gone” chores list.

Eliot will be starting at Click Kids Club in mid July. He’s looking forwards to that too. The interaction (in Portuguese as well as English) will do him good and, hopefully, Sofia, being the magical magician that she is, will be able to coerce Eliot into working through his homework (they have allocated study time, twice a week, which is BRILLIANT!)

Of course, a summer post wouldn’t be complete without a weather report, would it?

Weather has been warming up gradually over the past month or so. We’ve had some days in the high 30s and the past couple have been hazy but hot! I don’t suppose we’ll see much, if any, rain before about September/October now. It’s a tough life, eh?

I never get bored with our balcony view (apologies if you do!)

Click for our current 5 day forecast (you know you want to!)

*Did I mention how long the summer holidays were?

**Jury is still out on that one but so far, so good!

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Ok, so there were several topics I could have gone with for my “H is for” offering. Holidays? Home? Hands? (that’s us!) I decided to go for “Heat” because, well, it’s one of the things we moved for!

H is for Heat

Summer Temperatures Soar

I think it’s fairly safe to say that, when people find out we’ve moved to Portugal from the UK, it doesn’t take long for them to ask “is it hot there then?” Well, if you’re wondering, yes! The Algarve region has an average maximum temperature ranging from 15C and 6 hours of sunshine in the winter (yes, winter!) to 28C and 12 hours of sunshine in the summer. Not bad for an average, eh? Compare that to the UK’s winter average maximum of 7C and a summer average high of 20C, it’s not difficult to see why we prefer the Algarve.

We have a lot of dealings with folk back in the UK and take a lot of calls from business-related contacts who can’t help themselves asking “So, what’s the weather like?” Usually, they follow this with “not that I really want to know” but we know that it’s a kind of morbid curiosity really.

Winters, of course, much more temperate here but undoubtedly nicer than any winter we’ve ever experienced in England. We’ve had t-shirt days and days on the beach in the middle of winter. The weather is fairly stable too. It can chop and change a bit but nothing as erratic as it does in the UK. If the weatherman says there’ll be sun here, we believe him! (If the UK weatherman says there’ll be sun in the UK, we’ll usually pack a jacket “just in case”, right?)

Ice creams and t-shirts in January

Trust me, it gets much hotter in both summer and winter too. Hot summer heat can be unpleasant, there’s no denying it. Some days, by about midday, we’ve battened down the hatches (dropped the roller shutters, at least partway) and holed up for a few hours to escape the scorching heat. We’re lucky, as we work from home, we can do that. The schools have 3 months off over summer and we work from home so, if we really don’t fancy venturing out into the sun, we just don’t!

If you’re feeling brave, you can head to a water park. We have several here in the Algarve but our preference is Slide ‘n’ Splash in Lagoa. We wouldn’t go in the height of summer mind you, it’s too busy, but outside of July and August, it can be a great way to keep cool (mind the sunburn!)

Cooling off at Slide n Splash

There’s Zoomarine too, of course. It’s more of a marine park but it also has pool areas which are great for cooling off when the slides, rides and attractions get too much.

Time out in the pools at Zoomarine

So, this is Southern Europe, of course it’s hot in the summer. We know it’ll be hot and, not forgetting, that’s why thousands of tourists pay good money to come here and bask in our sunshine rather than stay “home” and endure the Great British Summer.

The rest of the year though, that’s a whole other thing. Spring and Autumn are definitely more changeable. A little less predictable and consistent but still likely to throw you a decent number of 20C+ days. Opening your blinds or curtains to endless blue sky in the morning sure does have a way of putting a smile on your face too. Even 2 years on, my mood never fails to be lifted by a blue sky morning.

Blue sky from the balcony. Who wouldn't be cheered up by that!?

(Gosh, the trees were so big then! They’re all cut back right now!)

Mild days in winter may be a bonus, but don’t think we get off completely scott-free. With our mild winter days come cold (by comparison, at least!) winter nights. Lows of 5C may not seem cold but you have to bear in mind that here in the Algarve, few properties, if any, have any sort of central heating system to run through the winter. We have a wood burning fire in the lounge and that’s the sum total of our heating! We pay about €120-140 for a ton of firewood and use anything between 1 and 1.5 tons per winter. Considering that is our entire year’s heating costs, it’s really not so bad.

Our cosy wood burner

Our lounge gets lovely and warm but, boy, the bedrooms sure feel cold by comparison! Electric blankets, hot water bottles and microwavable wheat bags are sometimes required!

It’s a small price to pay though. Hot summers, warm spring and autumn and a mild winter. I think I can handle that, thank you very much.

Algarve summer was just too much for this thermometer which got too hot to handle and burst!

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Ahh, how I agonised over a topic for my “G is for..” Then it came to me. I was hoovering (I do that sometimes) and it just came to me in a flash of inspiration (it happens sometimes. Very rarely, but sometimes!)

I must also apologise for the long delay between my last post and this one! Stuff happens and this post remained half-written while “life” got in the way

Anyway, here we go.

G is for Gratitude

As you go through the day-to-day humdrum of life, it’s very easy to forget to be thankful for the things that make that life special.

Every once in a while, it’s healthy to stop and appreciate life. Our family, our friends, our homes, our health and our wealth (however big or small)

Since moving to the Algarve, I think I’ve felt a lot more gratitude than I ever did before.

I am grateful for how “lucky” we are to be living somewhere so beautiful. 

Ponta de Piedade towards Portimao

I’m grateful for seemingly year-round sunshine

Christmas Eve on Praia de Batata beach, Lagos

I’m grateful that we are blessed to live somewhere that thousands of people see as a holiday destination and pay thousands of pounds to visit in summer!

Praia da Luz Beach in summer

I’m grateful for the huge variety of beaches we have surrounding us. 

Praia de Castelejo, West Algarve Coast

And the fact that our closest beach is only 5 minutes walk away 🙂

A February afternoon on Meia Praia beach

I’m grateful for the beautiful landscapes and views that we are surrounded by.

Camping inland at Silves

Barragem de Bravura

Sunset over Lagos Marina and Town, taken from our main balcony

I’m grateful every day for my beautiful boys who, frustrating as they may be sometimes, are a blessing.

Brothers! (Lagos Marina)

 I’m grateful for Jake’s beauty and intelligence

My big boy! (Alvor, December 2011)

How grown up he is! (Loulé Carnaval - February 2012)

I’m grateful for Eliot’s completely bonkers exuberance!

My mad boy! (January 2012)

Pirate boy - Loulé Carnaval February 2012

I’m grateful for Nik’s thriving business and my work which enables us to live here. 

I’m grateful for our apartment and how perfectly it suits our every day needs

Not bad for a home office 🙂

Working from a campsite! Laptop and Dongle!

I’m grateful for being able to go “on holiday” without having to go very far at all!

Camping in Silves, April 2011

The Old Village, Vilamoura. February 2012

I’m grateful for all the friends and family who to come visit us and all the friends and family left behind in the UK

(I’ll spare these guys the photos because many of them appeared in my Friends and Family post recently!)

There are so many things I am grateful for and it’s not difficult to remind myself most days how lucky we are.

Sure there are hard times and difficulties. Money worries, school worries, usual parenting worries, family worries (some of you will already know about our most recent family worries) but, in reality, we would have to deal with many of them, and many more, wherever we live.

I’m  just grateful we get to deal with them here.

Fun on the beach. February 2012

If you’re a blogger, why not join in the “Personal A-Z” posting?

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We don’t visit Portimao often. Now, no offence to anyone who does live in the city but we really don’t like it too much overall.
It’s great for shopping, it has some nice places to visit and a great park but, on the whole, every time we drive in we’re count our lucky stars that we didn’t end up living there.
It’s too city-like for our liking.

That said, if there’s anything worth visiting there, we’re not averse to the odd trip (we do visit the park there quite often) and, from 4th to 13th November, the showground there is hosting the annual Sao Martinho fair.
We’ve never been before and we didn’t have a clue where the showground place was (a google search didn’t even help here!) so we headed for the riverfront, parked up and followed the tannoy noise!

Yesterday, the weather was gooooooorgeous. Cool breeze but lovely warm sun. Temperature in the low to mid 20s. Can’t complain for early November 🙂

Well, we walked for at least 30 minutes until we eventually found the location (kids weren’t best pleased!)
There was a big fair with plenty of rides. The usual stuff, bumper cars and suchlike and a big (very big, in fact) indoor market. The market was pretty good. Not much different to the usual monthly market that comes to most towns (ours is the first Saturday of the month so had only been on the day before) and had plenty of household, food and gift type stalls.
We didn’t spend too much time wandering around these because, well, kids in tow. Enough said, right? I did buy some candy floss for Eliot and a toffee apple for Jake though. This did buy me a bit of browsing time as they were preoccupied eating!

Jake enjoys his toffee apple

Jake wasn’t bothered about going on any rides (thankfully!) Eliot, however, wanted to go on them all. The obvious and usual mardiness followed, when told he couldn’t.

He did enjoy the bumper cars

Bumper cars

and the bumper boats (although these were a bit more boring due to difficulties in actually controlling them and lack of many other people to actually “bump”)

Bumper boats

We probably would have let him go on a couple more things except, unfortunately, his attitude failed him and we left (boooo!)
We did notice, on leaving, quite how close to the big Aqua shopping centre it is though so, when we have our day off on Thursday, to go Christmas shopping, we might call in at the indoor market stalls again as I’m sure I can find some stocking fillers in there (and it’ll be significantly less busy than a Sunday afternoon!)

Anyway, when we left (by this time with most coats/cardigans/jumpers in the “tied-around-waist” position!) we used iPhone sat nav to find a more direct route back to where we’d parked the car.
It was a nice walk with a few things to look at along the way

decommissioned something or another

Details of the above Some old decommissioned plane or something. Looked cool anyway although the boys were (well, Eliot was) more interested in being boys than admiring some old plane 🙂

Eliot playing up to camera

We reached the riverfront walk much, much quicker than we’d left it in the other direction, thankfully!

When we got there, the boys were very taken with the various sculptures and statues that we on display and insisted on posing next to every one we passed!

Can't really tell what it is here!

But you can here (don't you just adore my 11yo's smile?)

He really doesn't do proper posing!

Closest thing to a decent shot of them both (sadly in shade!)

Jake's version...

...Eliot's version!

But wait! Is that a natural smile from Eliot? (sneakily taken before he "posed"!)

My smiley boy 🙂

The weather really was gorgeous (did I mention that?) so there were a few scenic shots taken also.

Small park area near where we'd parked on riverfront

View back up along riverfront (after we'd walked down it)

Some cruise liner docked up!

Just because it looks nice and the sky's blue!

Yeh, so that’s probably enough really!

Suffice to say, we enjoyed our unplanned riverside walk and would probably do the fair again although, at €2 a ride, we’d probably just give the kids a budget of so much each and let them choose. When it’s gone, it’s gone ‘n’ all that!

That or leave the kids at home… not that we’d ever do such a thing

*checks diary for Thursday…*

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There is, after all, one more important update to add!

This morning, we had Eliot’s end of term/year parents’ meeting. 9am really is a ridiculous time of day to have it during the school holidays though. I’m rarely even awake at that time but anyway, we went (en masse) to hear what was going on and results etc.

We really didn’t know what to expect with Eliot’s result. We know he’s been doing well in maths and his “Estudo do Meio” has only been held back by the language barrier rather than his actual knowledge and, for the most part, he’s been working with the year 2 students (his class) in these 2 subjects.

His verbal Portuguese is amazing! He can natter away with the best of them in the playground and on the beach (a couple of English kids actually didn’t speak to him, on the beach the other day, because he was chattering to the Portuguese kids, in Portuguese, and the English kids didn’t realise he was English!) but there are obvious huge gaps in his vocabulary and he’s been working with the year 1 students in the school (advantage of one amalgamated class of years 1-4!)

He did pass his end of year exams but they were a mix of both year 1 and year 2 so I don’t think any of us really expected him to progress into year 3 and so we spent some time sort of discreetly preparing him for the worst. He said he was ok with doing year 2 again (in the knowledge that, having done it once, he’d get it all right second time around!) but I know he really wanted to pass, like his brother.

Well, HE DID!! His school report was very good. Praised him (and us!) for working hard and fitting in well and his teacher has confidence that, language barrier aside (which will fade with a bit more time) he’ll be fine in year 3 and beyond.

Congratulations

Congratulations to both of our boys

Even if he hadn’t passed, he would still have shared a classroom and playground with the same friends but at least he has the boost of moving up with his year.

So, both our boys progress. They’ve both done so well. I don’t think any of us ever expected that either, let alone both, would learn so much in the relatively short time we’ve been here and pass their first years in Portuguese schools.

Kudos to them and here’s to more hard work and rewards

So, now we can concentrate on our visit to England tomorrow. We are only there for a week but we already have so much planned! Accountants, banks, hairdressers, friends, family, school and more!  So many people to see, so little time!

 

I know which we prefer!

Oh, and we’re bringing rain, apparently.

Not sure where we’re bringing it from (it certainly isn’t here! No rain for at least 4 weeks and none expected until about October LOL) but, looking at the forecast, it seems as though we’re dragging it along from somewhere!

Sorry ’bout that, folks!

We’re hoping, at least, for nice weather on Sunday because we’re planning a family BBQ for Eliot’s birthday (we had one before we left, last year) so one day of sun would be nice, thank you very much!

I suppose it’ll give us a reminder (as if we needed one!) of why we left in the first place and ensure that we’re glad to be home again, when we come back, eh?!

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