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Posts Tagged ‘visitors’


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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Yep yep. It’s that time of year already.

The boys have been off school for nearly 4 weeks already and, boy, don’t I know it?!

We made the decision not to send Eliot to the Kids Club which he has been going to in the summer for the past two years, mostly because we just can’t afford it. It’s lovely that the kids get to do so many great things there, but it’s a trek across to Luz twice a day and it’s money we don’t have.

So, both boys are home for the 3 months of summer. Yikes!

tearing-hair-out

Fortunately, the Hand family (well, the males!) have a new hobby: Archery!

Jake with his compound bow

Since the last update, after Eliot and Nik had a taster session, they have found themselves a more local archery club and our home is now full of equipment. The club itself, Archery Fun, also has guest bows so our visitors have been enjoying a bit of archery too!

Wendy and Rod on their recent visit

Which reminds me, I recently celebrated a… let’s say “significant” birthday and my family flew over to surprise me! I had no idea that this had been planned for months and months. Wendy just turned up at the door on the Friday and Mum and Rod appeared on the Saturday morning!! (They had all flown over together but Wendy was staying with us – cue me running around making the bed and tidying up – and Mum and Rod were staying nearby)

I was in shock for at least 48 hours and then I got old. Such is life!

It was a wonderful surprise though.

Anyway, back to the archery.
Both boys – actually all THREE boys – are loving their new hobby. The club is open 3 evenings during the week and both Saturday and Sunday mornings, and usually, they go to each session. The kids don’t go to every session but Nik usually does (with one or both kids, depending on who wants to go)

They are all doing really well at it. And anything that gets Jake out of the house cannot be a bad thing, can it?

passfail

And so to the school updates.

This year was a tricky one. I think I mentioned earlier in the year that Jake was not doing well at the end of his first term in year 8. He failed a lot of subjects, and it was a huge reality check for us all. We had no idea he was slipping so badly, and I think he had just presumed he could coast by on the level of work he had always done.

Not so, buddy!

One thing we did discover, and this could have a lot to do with his shocking result, is that he had been moved into a more ‘mainstream’ class.
Since he started school here 3 years ago, he has been in very mixed classes with a wide range of ages (he’s usually been the youngest) and with the more ‘challenging’ children (something his head-of-year let slip last year). There may have been allowances made, in his grades, for this.

Now, I can understand why they did this when he first started but clearly, at the end of year 7, they decided that his ability was such that he could join the ‘normal’ ranks and his class this year was made up of his own age group and clearly more able students.

This turned out to be a bit of a disadvantage for my ‘coaster’, until he was rudely awakened by failing 6 subjects by the end of term 1!

So, we introduced blackmail and bribery (as every good parent should, right?) and he had picked up 3 of those grades by the end of term 2. Kudos to Jake! Study paid off!

He is still below par in those same 3 (History, Geography and Science) at the end of term 3 but, because both his Maths and Portuguese (which he still studies as a foreigner rather than alongside the ‘natives’) were good enough, it was still enough to pass year 8.

Well done, Jake. It was definitely hit and miss for a while but he did it.

Congratulations

Congratulations to both of our boys

Eliot, who was held back in year 3 last year, also passed this year and so he moves into year 4. It will be an incredibly difficult year for him and I think we shall have to come up with some blackmail and bribery techniques for him also. Year 4 is a big exam year (they have to pass exams to move into year 5 which is a change of school) and Eliot’s reading in Portuguese is still very below par. Speaking – he can do until the cows come home (and the cows would probably stay away just for the peace and quiet!) but his reading and spelling is poor. We may have to consider a tutor for him, now he’s a little bit older.

Year 9 is also a big exam year for Jake. It’s the final year of their stage of schooling, after which they move to Portuguese secondary (years 10, 11 and 12) which is the equivalent of A-levels. He seems WAYYYY too young for this stage of life!

So both boys will have to work hard in the coming school year. I foresee many tears and tantrums and not enough study.

Still, at least we have summer to enjoy first.

View from The Lighthouse bar at the Marina

And speaking of summer and holidays, Nik and I have a trip to Florence at the end of this month. Yes, just US!
We are visiting, well, I am visiting for a Buffy and Angel convention – Slayer ItaCon – and so we took the excuse to go as a couple and Pat (Nik’s mum) is coming to babysit the boys for a week.

I’m super-excited to be meeting James Marsters and  Nicholas Brendon and hearing James and his son, Sullivan, two-fifths of Ghost of the Robot, play live – I’m a big GOTR and James Marsters fan – and we are both giddy about the prospect of an entire week in Florence on our own!

It’s going to be an amazing summer!

Hopefully, we won’t all fry to a crisp beforehand. The temperature during the day is well up in the high 30s, early 40s and even overnight is nudging 30. It’s seriously brain-frying.

I did have a week off from it when I visited Wendy in her new (yes, again!) home in Sleaford a couple of weeks ago though. It was pleasant there, warm and mostly sunny, and we did a few outdoorsy things on the days Wendy had off work – visited Belton House and did some gardening.

Belton House Orangery and Church – The sun is even shining in the UK right now!

The Lake House at Belton House

And perhaps we stopped from cream tea!

Cream Tea at Belton House

Of course, we also had a BBQ and a few… well, OK, lots of homemade Mojitos!

Homemade Mojitos

It was a good week actually. I enjoyed it.

The boys didn’t suffer too much without me. Nik’s sister was in Portugal for the week so they spent several days around the pool and being sociable with the in-laws here in the sun.

It was nice to get back to a bit of normality though. Until the next trip…

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Oh, the irony of this post!

There’s one thing I’ve realised since our move to the Algarve.

Time is like money. However much you have of either, it is never enough!

T is for Time

One of the things that prompted our move to the Algarve was the idea of having more “time”.

Well, OK, not actually more time, there are only 24 hours in a day after all, but removing ourselves from the dull, grey humdrum of the UK has afforded us the opportunity to be more selective about how we spend that time.

Sure, we spent a lot of time before leaving the UK, setting the business up so we could manage it more effectively from our slightly-remote location, but it has definitely been time well spent.

Now, we are blessed with enough time to do more fun things… such as…

Entertaining friends and family when they visit.

Pursuing new outdoor hobbies such as archery…

… and go-karting. (expensive hobby – for occasional use only!)

Exploring new places (This is at the Barragem da Bravura) up high…

… and down low (Ponta da Piedade, Lagos)

Enjoy a sunrise…

…or a sunset.

To play at the beach…

…or the water park…

…or relax by a pool

To cook…

…or bake.

To eat out…

… or with friends.

To experience local traditions…

…or play tourist.

All in all, it’s not a bad life really

Eliot approves!

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View of Lagos’ Avenida (main street) from the other side of the river

Well, doesn’t time fly when you’re having fun?!

It has been far, far too long since I posted a blog update so let me see if I can manage something of a catch up.

Since the boys went back to school, in mid September, it’s been a pretty hectic few months. We have had several trips back to the UK (2 for Nik, one for me) and a LOT of visitors out here to the Algarve.

As it’s nearly the end of term, let’s start with a quick school update.

Both boys settled into their new terms without too much trauma. Eliot has settled nicely in the new school and, according to his teacher, is coming on nicely. His language (written and comprehension) is improving steadily (can we have a “Hallelujah!”?!) and his verbal skills are, as ever, verbal (he has the gift of the gab in 2 languages now. Oh joys!)

He seems happy enough overall. There are a few trouble-makers in his class but nobody is giving him any particular grief, I don’t think (well, no more than they are giving anybody else anyway) Eliot doesn’t seem particularly troubled by it all and I’m inclined to believe whatever his position is. He’s not backward about showing his opinions and emotions and I’m fairly sure that, if there was a serious problem, we’d know about it.

Eliot at the skate park

Jake has also taken the new school year in his stride. He was very bothered by the fact that he’d been split from the majority of last year’s class (who he’d been together with since he started in the school) but has settled fine with the new class. He shares a few classes with his old classmates (French, I think) so he still sees them around and he’s making new friends in the new class. Academically, he seems to be doing ok. There are a few subjects he’s not doing so well at (including one or two that, perhaps, he ought to be doing better at) but there’s time for those to improve before it becomes a pass/fail-the-year issue.

They’re both ready for the Christmas break, I’m sure. This week is their last week of school (they finish Friday 14th) and then we can start to get ready for Christmas!

Like I already said, we’ve had lots of visitors in the past few months. Some have stayed with us (my Mum and Rod, Nik’s Mum) and some have stayed locally or elsewhere in the Algarve. It’s always nice to have visitors here, enjoying our beautiful local area and nice weather.

Recent visitor Tim and his giant club sandwich at the Skate Park (December 1st 2012)

Visitors Lee and Nicola on the beach (October 23rd 2012)

Sand Sculptures

Mum and Rod (and Jake) at the Sand Sculptures (October 13th 2012)

We’ve continued to have some great weather this year. Once you get to October, it starts getting a bit unpredictable but, in amongst the odd raining or dull day, we still have some beautiful warm sunny days. Even in December you can get away with wearing a t-shirt if the sun is out!

Of course, the slightly cooler but sunny weather lends itself to better biking weather too. This pleases Nik greatly.

The bike parked up at Salema Beach (December 8th 2012)

I’m sure we’ll have some good weather over the Christmas and New Year period too. My sister, Wendy, is visiting again, this time for the whole holiday period, and she’ll no doubt be needing to be taken for regular walks (it’s kinda like having a dog!)

Plus, we have a Boxing Day tradition (if you can call “2 years so far” a tradition!) of visiting Alvor and walking along the river to uphold.

Alvor Christmas 2011

Of course, it’s not all lazy days here in the Algarve. We are still working (our visitors rarely see that side of us but we DO work when we are visitor-free, honest guv!) because, well, if we didn’t, we wouldn’t be here. Laziness doesn’t pay the bills, unfortunately!

It’s not all perfect sunshine either. As our autumn guests will tell you, Autumn in the Algarve brings with it unpredictability. Lee and Nicola (mid October) had 2 days of torrential rain during which they holed up in their rental apartment and watched movies all day. Tim and Sue (end November) also had a couple of rainy periods and, when it rains in the Algarve, it really rains!

Sometimes, although thankfully rarely, it does a bit more than that too.

Mid-November saw a freak tornado in the Algarve. From what I can gather, it passed us, here in Lagos, still out at sea (small mercies) and landed about 15-20km away in Carvoeiro. It then travelled inland to Lagoa and ended up at Silves, causing huge destruction on its way.

Early photo at Dona Ana Beach, Lagos (courtesy of Antonia Veigas Facebook)

Destruction in Lagoa and Silves (image courtesy of Sul Informação) Click image to view more photos

There is also some “good” home video of this tornado as it arrived in Silves. How this person stayed at the window so long, I have NO clue!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=WJcdNHg23iI

I’m not sure I can embed the video from YouTube but please DO click and watch. It’s not long but it’s certainly impressive

Anyway, fortunately, this kind of weather is very rare here and we’re hoping not to experience any more like it. Hopefully, those affected by the damage and destruction can get at least remedial repairs done promptly and have some sort of normality in place for the holiday season.

Speaking of which, presents to wrap etc etc. Jake’s birthday is tomorrow so Christmas takes a back seat until after December 11th. No early decorations for us!

I’ll try to keep updated a bit more often in future 🙂

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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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Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity

 

Seneca – Roman philosopher, mid-1st century AD

It’s been a while, I know. Life has been busy and my poor blog seems to always be bottom of the to-do pile!

However, with the possibility of it being a good long while before I’ll have chance to blog at all again, I thought I’d do my “O is for…” while I can!

I have had my “O is for…” topics for a while but I did nearly abandon them altogether. I may or maynot explain why but, for now, I’m sticking with them…

O is for Opportunities and Optimism

It’s a tough life…

Two things that Nik and I have both heard a LOT since we moved to Portugal 2 years ago are “You’re very brave” and “You’re very lucky to live there”.

To be quite honest, I think neither luck nor bravery played much of a part in our decision to move to Portugal or the fact that  we are still here 2 years on.

The whole process was a lot less about being lucky or being brave and a lot more about seizing the opportunity to do something a lot of people either can’t, won’t or just don’t do.

I suppose I could agree that we are fortunate to have such opportunities. Our work means that we have been able to move away from the UK and still continue to run our businesses, certainly, but it has come only with a lot of planning, preparation, research and, to a certain degree, cost. Financial cost. A big financial cost, in fact, but one that, for us, is absolutely worth it 100 times over. Fortunate? Maybe. Lucky? Nah.

I don’t think we were particularly brave either. Again, research and planning coupled with a hefty dose of optimism I think is more accurate.

There have been many places along our journey where, even with the best planning in the world, we could have failed (for want of a better word) but, so far, so good. We have tenants in our UK home, paying rent to cover our mortgage. We have a successful business, providing us with a modest income, just enough to live on here in Portugal. We have a good business relationship with our suppliers and a fantastic business who handles our dispatch in the UK. Our children have settled in, made friends and done well in Portuguese schools. Our rental property is perfect in every way etc etc.

Optimism is still key though. We have to be optimistic that our delicate web of work, life and other things will stay in balance and continue to aid our life here in Portugal.

It’s pretty accurate to say that if even one of those threads in our web gave way, it could be life-changing but, then again, isn’t that true of everyone’s life? Where-ever they are?

For example, my sister was recently made redundant from her long-term job as a family lawyer. Her life has changed completely now. We recently lost my father-in-law to a fairly short-term illness. That has changed a lot of lives. My sister-in-law broke up with her Portuguese husband and moved back to the UK with their now-4-year-old son. Again, lives changed.

There’s certainly nothing unique about our delicate house of cards. It’s just where we have chosen to enjoy those cards that differs from others’, I suppose.

I mean, who wouldn’t want to wake up to perfect blue skies nearly every day of the year? Who wouldn’t want to be able to make spur of the moment trips to the beach after school? Who wouldn’t want to live somewhere that people enjoy visiting (and, indeed, many people pay thousands of pounds to visit!)?

Are we lucky to have such opportunities? Or did we just seize the day?

Are we brave to move our young family from the UK and into a Portuguese lifestyle? Or are we just optimistic that our life will find its own balance as long as we keep working at it?

I’ll let you make your own minds up

 

 

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Now, that’s not to say that we don’t like ALL kinds of visitors (well, maybe there are a few kinds we wouldn’t like but we’re lucky enough not to have had any of “those” yet – other expats will probably know the kind I mean!)

It’s always nice to have visitors, especially first timers. Being able to show people where we live and take them to see some of the fabulous sights we are blessed enough to be close to, is always lovely.

My aunt and uncle have been (mostly) annual visitors to the Algarve in recent years. They always stay in a villa with pool (with friends) near Lagoa and so their place is reasonably close by.

Last week, Mum was staying with us too and we all went over to Judi and Ian’s villa for some pool play and a BBQ.

The boys (that’s all 3 of them) loved being in the pool. It’s a rare treat for us really. In fact, just getting Jake out of the house is a rare treat but he was lured by the idea of the pool (and, no doubt, the food!) because pool means water but no sand. Sand is not Jake’s friend. Or mine. He’s definitely a chip off my block in that respect!

Jake took this one…

… and Eliot took this one! (note Jake’s “post-pool” hair!)

The BBQ was fantastic. It was fabulous to be able to spend many hours chatting and socialising with family. We chatted long and late (until the boys started falling asleep really) and came home tired. It was a great day in a lovely setting.

Later that week, Judy and Ian came over to Lagos to visit us for the afternoon. We ventured into our usual café for a drink and cake (has to be done, of course), came back here for lunch and then drove out to Ponta da Piedade, returning home via the Avenida viewpoint above Praia da Batata.

Towards Portimao from Ponta da Piedade

Towards Luz, from Ponta da Piedade

Admiring the view

Grottos and boat tours at Ponta da Piedade

View atop Praia da Batata

It was lovely to see family here. Hopefully we will see them again sometime soon.

Meantime, we’re into summer now and temperatures are creeping up. It’s endlessly hot and sunny and the boys are off now for summer.

We have school parents’ meetings tonight (Jake’s) and tomorrow (Eliot’s)

I’ll be posting a school update after that 🙂

Oh, and “O is for… ” will come soon, honest!

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