Saturday, March 02, 2013

McKay news Christmas 2012-early 2013

Very late Christmas letter - 2012 (and beginning of 2013) PART 1 Whew! What a year we have had in 2012, with more adventures to come in 2013. Both kids had fantastic school reports last year. Laura received the academic award for Year 5, which was a fantastic achievement. Laura enjoyed the Year 6 farewell last week (which was like her farewell too) dancing and having fun with all her classmates. We enjoyed some wonderful celebrations at Jesmond Public School including their 125th anniversary and Multicultural day - the day was a feast of food, dance, song and fun. The school is so blessed to have a huge cultural diversity and we all got to be a part of it. Laura, Niall and Fi sang a South African song and we all did a presentation on SA to each of the classes (quick 8 minute rotations). Everyone enjoyed the bobotie in the tasting room. And the school’s Multicultural Cookbook was a hit (including the bobotie recipe!). Laura has enjoyed the dance group and choir. Both kids have loved the Djambe drumming classes – the teacher Isabelle was fantastic! The last few months of 2012 were stressful as Fi was made redundant from her job (absolutely no work on) and the financial crash meant there weren’t many jobs available. We have been very blessed with support from family and friends and with God’s help Fi was able to find another job – just in time before the last payments from her previous job finished. After 2 months of searching, Fi was offered a job with Monteath & Powys, a local surveying firm, in the Planning department. She works 3 days a week (Mon-Wed) and has just started some extra hours during school days on Thursdays (working from home), and has a lovely team to be part of. She’s already learning lots of new stuff so she can delve more into Council work. While Fi was off work, she was able to spend lots of time with the kids and catch up with some friends and family, help with school events, church kids club and camp and lots of other stuff! So the time was not wasted, and although stressful, will work out for the best. After 9 months of waiting (since we packed it in Stellenbosch), our stuff from SA finally arrived (in my first week back at work in the new job!). Much excitement was had unpacking all our things – finding a space for them all was another fun task – and nothing was broken! Connor really missed his lego, Laura missed her clothes and shoes. Niall enjoyed seeing his books and the bikes again. I missed the KitchenAid mixer, bedding, cutlery and my clothes. We had to beg, borrow and steal while we waited for our stuff, so it’s nice to finally have everything in one place again. Niall has been busy reading, reading, reading – and has now started writing his thesis. He met his aim of 6,000 words by Christmas. He’s loving the PhD and has been busy networking with staff and students – initiating a Tuesday lunch gathering and other get togethers. He attended his first conference in New Zealand and presented a paper, which went well. We had some great news in early Feb that Niall has been offered a scholarship for his PhD! Niall continues to swim, run and cycle regularly and recently competed in a small Triathlon in Penrith and is readying for another one this time in Newcastle in March. He has recently been offered part-time supply work with Merewether Uniting Church, from February 2013, so that will help with our finances and is a great opportunity. We have been involved with the soup kitchen (it's more of a community dinner than a soup kitchen) at Merewether for a number of years and have enjoyed taking our kids there on Tuesday nights to share with a range of people over dinner. Laura celebrated her 11th birthday early with 5 friends for a sleepover (wake over??) in a tent outside, which was fun. Then the celebrations continued as we visited family in Sydney and Canberra, enjoying a yummy ice cream and pizza celebration for her actual birthday at none other than Murray & Yvette's new ice cream shop, Stripey Sundae. We spent some time in Gloucester with Niall's family which was lovely too - this time celebrating Murray's 30th. The kids were both accepted into the Hunter School of Performing Arts for 2013 after auditioning in piano in September. Although Connor was a little hesitant to leave all his friends again, they have both adapted well to the challenges of starting at a new school. They have started into new activities this year with Laura doing drama classes and Connor starting soccer soon and continuing their swimmin and piano and Laura continuing tennis. It's certainly busy! So it comes to the end of the year and we look forward to 2013. We expect a few trips to Canberra with Sophie and Ross expecting in March. Lots of music-making with the new school, the new drum kit we were given and a piano exam for Laura. New friends, triathlons, singing, saying goodbye to some friends, missing our friends and family in SA and possibly some travel for Niall. Our minister, Maz, is leaving in March, so there will be new things at church as well. But in all this we trust that God is present. We pray that you and your families will be blessed with peace and joy and the love of God – and there is always space here for visitors. Love, the McKays.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Settling into Newcastle June 2012

Settling into Newcastle again Settling in has gone pretty smoothly (except for getting the phone and internet - but it is finally on now!). Fi’s mum sold us her car (the hatch version of our old wagon). The house was partially unpacked and there was food in the fridge and cupboard :) We’ve unpacked all our boxes and are gradually getting back all our belongings which we loaned out - but we’ll be waiting a long while for our things from Stellenbosch (waiting for the container to be filled, then sailed to Aus).
The kids settled easily into school - Jesmond Public School was very happy to have us back. Connor’s friend, William, said “Where have you been? I came back to school and you weren’t there!” (we did tell him we were moving but it’s a bit much to take in as a 5 year old). Connor is in the 2/3 class and Laura in the 5/6 class. It is great to be back at Jesmond Park Uniting Church again and seeing lots of good friends there. Niall commenced his PhD at Newcastle University. Fiona went back to work at GHD 3 days a week (to have some money coming in again!). And we’ve managed to get the kids into their activities - piano lessons, tennis for Laura and hockey for Connor and swimming for both (and Fi & Niall can do laps during the lesson). Both kids got a merit award at the second assembly and were in the top of their class for speeches (only a few days to prepare!) - they had plenty to talk about after our adventure! So as we settle back in here, we think of all our friends back in our other home, Stellenbosch. We miss them all terribly - which hasn’t been helped by our lack of communication with the outside world (yes, even in Australia it takes over 2 weeks to get a home phoneline!). But now we’re on school holidays and we should be able to talk to some of them a bit more frequently.
Connor had his 8th birthday on 8 July at Blue Gum Hills Regional Park and enjoyed celebrating with his friends with an apple pie birthday cake (with Connor spelt out on top) and playing in the maze and riding bikes. His special birthday present was our new pet guinea pigs, named Coco and Splodge.
We won’t be travelling far these holidays - just up to Gloucester to visit Niall’s mum’s house for a short relax before school starts. Our family has done enough travelling for a while now! We’re still working out what we want to do with our lives as we settle back in, but giving ourselves plenty of space to do that. Niall is looking for part-time ministry, computers or teaching work and Fiona is looking at options for singing (Chamber Choir is currently on tour in the USA at the Choir Games). We’ll both be back into church music this week, so then we’ll really feel like we’re home. Fi made a collage of many of our friends and family from SA which will adorn our wall and remind us of the adventure we have taken (it sometimes feels like a dream). If you’ve made it through this whole saga - well done. You’ve travelled with us! Keep in touch so we can keep travelling with you. Lots of love, the McKay Family.

Canada 2012

Our next destination was Canada. We made it through our very full flight (kids shared one screen as Laura’s wasn’t working and no spare seats to move to - but we did get a free meal to compensate) and arrived in Toronto. We stayed in a hotel in North York on the outskirts of the city, but right above a subway station. We set about going around town, seeing the Bata shoe museum (thanks Caroli!), walking around the city and enjoying the train system. We met up with Fiona’s Newcastle choir friend, Anthony, for dinner one evening, and bought an e-reader ready for our train journey. Fi enjoyed checking out the local grocery store - a huge underground shop with everything you could imagine. Breakfast supplies, lunch, fruit and munchies were purchased.
After killing some time in the city and a late dinner, we boarded our VIA rail train at Toronto at 9.30pm and quickly set up for the night - carriage 121 (near the back of the 21 carriages). The kids had a bed each on the top and us adults slept on the bunks below, facing into the aisle. The beds were quite big and very comfortable, although we found it hard to sleep the first night. In the mornings while we had breakfast they folded up the beds into two 4 seater booths. The kids enjoyed exploring the train, listening to the talks in the activity car and eating! Boy did we eat. So much food and it was really nice. The landscape continually changed from trees and lakes to prairies, oil rigs, lakes and finally snow-capped mountains which we could watch from our carriage, a ‘dome’ carriage or later in the journey the panoramic carriage. Time went so quickly as we were continually eating and looking at the views. There were also nice people to talk to (lots of retired people and train buffs who were there to enjoy the journey). Occasionally we stopped and could get out to stretch and feel our landlegs again! We stopped in Winnepeg for a morning and explored ‘The Forks’ (where 2 rivers join) and the shops - we found a wonderful toy shop where we bought a very apt game - ‘Ticket to Ride’ (the North American version with some of our train stops of course!). We’d played the game with Niall’s cousins in Stellenbosch and it was a big hit with the kids - so we just had to buy it! After 3 days of travelling we disembarked at Jasper and stayed for a week with our friends, Ray and Diana and their 2 kids, Pascale and Mikaela. We met this wonderful family on our holiday to Vietnam in 2010. They made us feel very welcome with our own unit underneath their house and lots of planned activities! Jasper is a very beautiful place within a national park, surrounded by huge snow-capped mountains. Elk and bears roam through and nearby the town and there are so many lovely lakes and walks nearby. We came on the long weekend, so got to spend a number of days with the girls before they returned to school. On our first morning it snowed (lightly, but there were actual snow flakes!); everything had a dusting of snow - so beautiful! This was the highlight of the trip (other than Legoland) for the kids - they were desperate to see real snow AND touch it!
Some of the places we visited were the glacier, hot springs, Five lakes, tramway (cablecar, complete with Aussie guides!) where we had snow fights and amazing views and then Lake Maligne, which was still half covered with ice. All the lakes were crystal clear, and most and no vegetation as it’s too cold - glacial water! Our walk around Lake Maligne was half in snow, which the kids mostly enjoyed. Many snow fights were had - but there was not enough snow for a snowman! Hot chocolate was a welcome relief at the end of our 3km snow walk (Connor still wanted ice tea though). We didn’t see any moose or goats, but we saw mountain sheep, a grizzly bear and 4 black bears, very close to our car. We visited a museum to see some more static versions of all the animals in this area.
Our hosts made sure we tried the local cuisine including ‘poutine’ (basically hot chips with gravy and melted cheese curd), and we had plenty of great home cooking as well. We made an enormous bobotie for dinner one night, bringing our South African influence in, and bolognaise another time. It’s great to be able to cook in a well equipped kitchen when you’ve been travelling! The kids had a wonderful time playing together and jumping on the trampoline, sitting in the hot tub and playing with Laddie the dog (Lassie lookalike). We also enjoyed the hot tub - it was light until 10pm, so you could sit and watch the mountains from the tub. Eventually it was time to get back on the train. The train was delayed slightly so we did some last minute shopping in town and waited for the train to arrive. What a sight to see when the train came in with the snow-capped mountain backdrop and the station full of excited passengers (many Australians and a few Canadians) straining to get a look at the train, keen to board. I managed to get in quick to the reservations to get an early dinner sitting (9pm is too late to eat for us!) and soon we were on the train again.
We wanted to make sure we got a good spot in the ‘dome’ car where you can see all around. We soon found some vacant seats and set in for a spectacular afternoon viewing Mt Robson and the lakes. Niall and Fi watched until sunset (while the kids played in our bedroom) with the car to themselves. We briefly stopped at Kamloops and stretched our legs before bed, then had a nice shower and slept. We arrived on the outskirts of Vancouver while we were having breakfast and soon after alighted and collected our luggage. We were very sad to say goodbye to the train. A quick taxi trip to our hotel, and we were able to check in early to our hotel and get out and about along the river to Stanley Park. Such a gorgeous sunny day! We decided not to hire a bike ($40/person/day!) and instead enjoyed walking around town eating our left over snacks from the train. At night we headed into Chinatown for the night markets and caught a tram home again (we’d had enough walking). Next day we spent at the Granville Island Markets (a short walk over the bridge from our hotel) and by chance ran into Noel and Margaret from our Newcastle church. The weather was just warm enough for the kids to use the free waterside, which they virtually had to themselves, so wore themselves out going up and down in the waterpark. Then a quick trip back to our hotel and we were picked up by Sheila, the mother of a friend of ours, for a visit to her neighbourhood. After meeting the family, we took a quick trip to the swinging bridge and walked through the huge, mossy forests to see the waterfall, then a home cooked roast dinner and conversation about Australian friends and visits. On our last day we spent shopping in Vancouver - buying another e-reader (everyone was wanting to use it, so 2 were necessary!), last minute presents and seeing around town (Niall spotted Aussie swimmer Stephanie Rice) and at the waterfront, we flopped down to kill a few hours in a huge bookshop where the kids devoured some books! Dinner was at a seedy bar, which turned out to have excellent food (only $5.95 each, plus tax of course!). Although we’d checked out of our hotel, we managed to have showers at a nearby gym and then pick up our luggage from our hotel lobby ready for our midnight flight back to Australia. After a few hours waiting to board, we were on our way to Australia - a very full flight - not one seat free! Kids didn’t eat, but managed to sleep enough (Connor threw up a few times, so just as well he didn’t eat!). And soon we were back in Sydney seeing our family again! Niall’s mum and Jeff and Fi’s mum and Hilary and Fi’s sister, Ange, met us with big hugs and then we quickly headed back to Newcastle to our old house. Waiting for us at our house were welcome signs made by Laura’s friend, Lara, and some cupcakes! And most of our unpacking had already been done, so we could move straight in. The kids were keen to stay with nanna, so Niall and Fi had the house to ourselves for the first night.

Sweden and Iceland 2012

Sweden and Iceland 2012 After sad goodbyes, we flew to Sweden (via Germany) and caught the train to Uppsala to meet our friends Helena and Erik and their 2 children, Gabrielle and Elise. We stayed 4 nights at their house, tucked away in a small suburb outside of Uppsala. We enjoyed a short bus trip to Uppsala seeing the beautiful church, castle and university buildings.
One day we went to Stockholm with Erik as our guide. It was quite overcast and rainy at times, so we made the best of the day, seeing a recovered shipwrecked boat from the 16th century, wandering through the old town, catching the train and tram, visiting Skansen - seeing traditional Swedish buildings and trying swedish bread and meatballs, and avoiding the funpark and the teenage concert on that day! Last on our list was going to an Ice Hockey World Championship game - Norway vs Italy. It was an afternoon game, so not many people there - but it was fantastic! The kids were screaming and cheering for Norway - who won! We made our own way back home on two trains and a bus and had a quick dinner before heading to bed exhausted!
Helena took us on some lovely walks around the rivers near their house and we managed to find our way to the shops to buy supplies to cook dinner (bobotie and sticky date pudding!) as a farewell gift. It was nice to relax at their house and for the kids to play.
From Sweden we flew Iceland Air to Reykjavik, Iceland, for two nights staying at Inga’s Guesthouse. Thank goodness it was a self contained flat as food is so expensive to buy! 2 minute noodles and frozen vegies left in the freezer were our first meal - it was still light but well past our bedtime, so we crashed anyway! Not far from our house was a lovely bakery and a corner store to buy supplies ($8 for box of cereal!). We braved the cold, overcast and sometimes wet day on a day bus tour of the Golden Circle seeing so much (but no puffins!): - gulfoss waterfall (Hvítá tumbles and plunges into a crevice some 32 m deep), - Strokkur hot springs with the amazing geyser that shoots up to 30 m high. - beautiful church at Skalholt (plaques show ministers dating back to the 900’s), - Þingvellir National Park, where the American and Eurasian tectonic plates are pulling apart at a rate of a few centimetres per year and where Icelandic people have met for important meetings for a thousand years.
Evidence of the ongoing ground movements are everywhere - tourist tracks that stop abruptly, rifts, gaping holes in the ground, volcanic rock and then the snow-capped mountains. Our tour guide firstly spoke in English, then translated into German and of course also spoke Icelandic. She sang several Icelandic songs as we travelled around Iceland. It was very enjoyable, but the kids were disappointed that we didn’t actually touch any snow (just saw it along the road in patches).
Our second and last full day we took a tour to the Blue Lagoon enjoying the hot spring baths, trying the mineral masks and then getting ready to fly out that evening. Connor didn’t like the lagoon - too hot! We had beautiful sunny weather, even though it was a little windy and chilly outside - the hot baths kept us warm! It was a very extravagant place with spa treatments and towels and robes you could hire (after paying lots to get in!) and a bar in the pool area. The colour of the water was iridescent blue - almost white, against the grey rocks and brilliant blue sky.

Spain 2012

Time to change countries with a flight to Madrid. Our friends from Stellenbosch, Ainhoa and Javier, met us and spent the week showing us around their hometown. Our hostel was right in the middle of the city in Puerto del Sol above the metro station, but it was very quiet inside and had everything we wanted (except a plug for the sink – ‘no plugs allowed’). There was an amazing bakery below us that had the most delicious pastries and cakes!
We went by fast train (200km/hr) to the town of Toledo, a historic city not far from Madrid. It has many historic buildings and they are still discovering more layers of history beneath. One museum had a Roman road below a Islamic mosque, that then became a Christian church. We nearly had to stay the night when we accidently got the wrong train time - luckily the guard was kind enough to let us stand up for the journey home!
Back in Madrid we met up with some friends from Newcastle for dinner - traditional Tapas - yumm! Then the next day the adults went to the Prado and saw the most amazing art I’ve ever seen while the kids and Ainhoa had an adventure on the metro (choose your own adventure)! We finished the afternoon with Churros and Hot Chocolate - a must for any visitor - thankfully Ainhoa could order for us. Very rich thick hot choc with donut-like light deep fried churros to dip into the chocolate.
After sharing in this delicacy we said goodbye to Caitlin and Tim and had a rest! Javier’s family invited us for lunch so we enjoyed some traditional paella (no seafood for Niall) and overcame the language barrier with some games and lots of laughter! We survived a red bus tour during a downpour (with no proper covers on the top level!) and managed to get our washing done at a nearby laundromat (while chatting to another Australian, of course!). Another interesting town we travelled to (by bus this time) was El Escorial where we saw the fantastic Royal Palace and Monastery with so much art work and beautifully manicured gardens. We hiked up to Felipe’s seat and could see snow on the mountains in the distance. Such a beautiful day - and it was Mother’s Day!

McKay update - The long way home... Leaving South Africa and onto Germany

Our last few weeks in Stellenbosch were spent catching up with lots of friends and doing some last minute sightseeing. Lots of food, lots of braais and some beautiful scenery and great friends.
We really enjoyed driving along Chapman’s Peak to see absolutely stunning scenery (it was raining in Stellenbosch when we left and came into blue skies and sunshine!) along the coast. We also went to see an excavation in situ where we saw skeletons of the African bear, the short-necked giraffe and many other animals. Our final farewell was a lovely braai at Elaine’s house with many of our friends. It was very sad to say goodbye to everyone.
In mid-April we left Stellenbosch and flew to Frankfurt, Germany. Niall braved the German roads (right-hand driving!) and lack of sleep and drove us safely to Dilsberg, near Heidelberg. Dilsberg is an old castle town from the 1300s and the youth hostel we stayed in was on the edge of the town. The castle ruins were amazing and had a wonderful view over the valley and it’s meandering stream. We also ventured into Heidelberg by train and visited the castle, had a ride on the funicular for a spectacular view of the city (chilly at 1oC) and enjoyed Turkish for lunch! Fi had to try out shopping at Aldi, so we bought some supplies at the local store and had fun working out what everything was in German! On our way to Gunzberg we stopped at an Air and Car museum at Sinsheim. What a find! Mounted aircraft hung mid-air towering over us as if they were flying and we walked through them (mid-air). Our favourites were the Concorde and it’s Russian equivalent, the Tupolev (TU 144). The aircraft were so huge up close! We stayed in a youth hostel and spent a day at Legoland.
What an amazing place - so much lego everywhere - replica cities, underwater adventures, star wars. Then there was the lego factory, the aquarium, rides and of course building your own creations. We all had a ball at Legoland, even though it was very cold. Not that that deterred Connor from wanting to go on a water ride - we did wait until it stopped sleeting.
Next we moved on to a very scenic small village called Schönhofen, near Regensburg. Our cottage included a mini hydro-electric plant on the running stream underneath us. We looked out onto the river and some cliffs. Spring had just arrived and everything was blossoming. In between some wet patches we enjoyed some lovely walks up the cliffs - amazing views of rolling hills, blossoming flowers and the sleepy village below. We found our way into Regensburg driving, no thanks to the GPS, on a very icy wet day and saw some beautiful old churches, very ornately decorated and often gilded with gold. We came across a brass quartet from Russia playing beautiful classical music in the plaza - absolutely exquisite music (sounded like a CD) - should have been in the concert hall, not busking outside! Starting to get sick of pizza everywhere. We cooked our own dinner tonight! Nürnberg was our next stop, staying with Rosemarie and Hans, the parents of our good friend, Martina, from Stellenbosch. We had an amazing tour of the Staedler factory seeing how pencils and are made and the enormous warehouse which is totally mechanised - so many floors! White asparagus (spargel) had just come into season, so we walked to the town butcher and bought some fantastic bacon and his home-grown spargel, to be served with potatoes and a butter sauce. We also tried a traditional German meal of pork shoulder blade, knoedel (glutinous ball like a dumpling), gravy and salad. It was so huge! The Nazi history in Nürnberg is still visible with the unfinished Colosseum, steps of major buildings, the main parade and of course lots of plaques and memorials. But still lots of amazing churches, a castle and the Rathaus (town hall) to see. Next time we might do the underground tour where they kept safe from the bombings (and kept many treasures)! Our hosts guided us through their local church which was rebuilt after the war; many of the precious items were kept safe during the bombing. We were really impressed with the amount of windfarms and solar panels on so many buildings. Most farms were covered with them - obviously an alternate income source. After saying goodbye to our friends, we caught the ICE train to Berlin and stayed 3 nights. The day we left it was really warm - 29oC. Fi happened to find a matinee performance at the Konzerthaus, so we saw an exquisite orchestra perform (didn’t think much of the Soprano soloist though!) and we got a croissant and a drink - very high brow! We found our way around the metro and buses and booked our evening meal up the tower - 3 hours of revolving views of Berlin at sunset. A walking tour of Berlin was fascinating - the kids loved it, even after 4 hours of walking! It was amazing to see the Berlin wall and the Jewish memorial was very moving. So much history here and so many museums (which we didn’t go to). Our hotel, the Ibis, was fantastic - and had scrumptious breakfast buffets! Our favourite restaurant was Mexican, very close to our hotel - and so cheap!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

April 2012 update

Things are gradually coming to a close in our last few weeks in SA. The kids finished school and Fiona finished choir. It’s been a busy, but good first term.

Starting from where we last left off, we had a lot of visitors in December 2011. After our friend Phil, family came – first Hilary (Niall’s mum), followed by her husband Jeff, and his daughter, Julie. We spent a lovely but busy Christmas together at home and then went to Pringle Bay for a week. We were joined by Hil’s sister, Elaine, and her daughter, Nicky, and her family. Not too long after we welcomed Niall’s brother, Ross, and his family – direct from Australia (very tired!). Niall’s uncle Brian and his family also stayed one night – so all in all it was a very busy place, but lots of fantastic food! We enjoyed a few swims, but the sea water is quite cold; the lagoon was quite nice when it wasn’t too windy.

Baboons were the entertainment for the week; one day we locked ourselves inside as they rampaged through the houses around us (climbing in windows and eating everything in sight) and then held court around the kids paddling pool on our verandah, lying back in our chairs and staring at us through the glass. It was quite scary hearing them thunder across the roof and seeing them surround the house. Eventually they moved away but not before a few more visits.

We had several outings to local sights with the family including Table Mountain and the Aquarium as well as a McKay braai as a house farewell. Hil, Jeff, Ross, Sophie and Holly flew up to Johannesburg and onto the Kruger Game Reserve while we packed up and moved house again – only a few streets away this time – and the kids started back at school. The move was the smoothest so far – we were very organised; but we were exhausted just the same! At the end of the week we flew to Johannesburg ready for Niall’s cousin’s wedding (Heather). We stayed for 5 days, recouperating after the move and giving us some more time with the family before they left for Australia. The wedding went really well – we had the typical Johannesburg weather with warm, sunny weather interspersed with amazing downpours (4 during the day) and thunderstorms. We said goodbye to everyone for the last time before we leave SA and headed home to unpack and be ready for school the next day.

We have been very blessed with our houses – this may be our best house yet. Our landlord, Leanne, is living in a granny flat and has 2 lovely dogs, and our house is 3 bedrooms with a lovely pool and backyard. The neighbours are so friendly and the whole area has a nice vibe.

The school year started with a bang – book covering, buying stationary, organising uniforms, catching up on missed information (a lot happens in 3 days – we missed the sports carnival for Connor!). Both kids swam in the school Swimming Gala and Laura participated in the school Athletics Gala. Fiona volunteered to help at the Athletics and found herself measuring the boys high jump. Fi and Niall both officiated as timekeepers at the swimming galas – a very serious task! The amount of organisation that goes into these events is phenomenal (perhaps a little overdone). It is quite serious (all whites for officials please!) and they also take the catering seriously (needless to say we ate very well thankyou!).

As grade 5 parents, we find ourselves part of the catering team, so Fiona has helped out with catering for swimming galas. But unfortunately she won’t be able to continue next term since we’re leaving. It’s a major undertaking all this catering – but obviously a good fundraiser for the school.

The kids have enjoyed the summer sports including swimming and tennis (both kids), as well as mini-cricket and soccer for Connor. Connor played two cricket matches – one away match, which he really enjoyed. Both kids have thrown themselves into their piano and theory lessons. Laura hopes to do her 1st grade exam this year. Laura had a lovely joint schools music concert in the garden the other week, with choirs, orchestras and marimbas from 3 different schools (primary and high schools), and a guest group called Zamar, who were very entertaining. The boys high school choir had a fantastic sound – so many great singers and musicians here in Stellenbosch. Both kids had fantastic school reports and their teachers couldn’t say enough good things about them. We will definitely miss Rhenish and the great friends we’ve all made there. But we won’t miss the early morning starts, especially in winter! We will go back for the first day of term to say goodbye one last time as we return our uniforms.

Niall has decided to apply to do his PhD through Newcastle University only as it was taking way too long to get the joint degree between Newcastle and Stellenbosch. So he’ll be able to get stuck into it when he returns to Newcastle. He’s already been working hard preparing academic papers ready for publishing and has 1 finished and another almost done.

Fiona has been busy singing over the past month with Schola Cantorum with a concert in early March for Wordfees – the Afrikaans word festival in Stellenbosch. She sang in Afrikaans for most of the concert and was also in a smaller group that sang some South African works – very tricky and of course learnt at the last minute. It was a lovely concert. Her last concert was part of a Choral Conductors seminar run through Stellenbosch University. The seminar was very informative as the choir was the ‘instrument’ for the training conductors to use as well as being able to sit in on lectures. Our conductor has just moved to Norway, so there will be many changes coming in the near future. Fiona will miss the many friends at choir – and of course miss the singing!

On a very sad note, Niall had an unplanned trip back to Perth at the end of March for his step-sister’s funeral. Julie had only visited us in December, so her memory was fresh in our minds. Niall’s two brothers and their families were able to attend the funeral as well (Fi and kids stayed in SA) and we were very blessed that our travel insurance covered Niall’s flight costs. It was really important for Niall to be with his family at this sad time and to be able to spend a week with Jeff and Hilary was fantastic.

Time to move again….yep, 2nd last move in South Africa. This time we’re packing up all our stuff to move back to Australia and then housesitting (and dog-sitting) at Niall’s aunty’s house until we leave (she’s visiting her daughter in Australia). This time the moving company packed and took the boxes, so it wasn’t too traumatic! Now we just have our suitcases and some furniture and food to sell/donate.

We haven’t done too much travelling recently with much to do ready for our departure, but we have so much to look forward to on our trip home. We’ll be travelling to many countries and visiting lots of friends including Germany, Spain (Madrid), Sweden (Uppsala), Iceland (Reykjavik) and Canada (Toronto, Jasper and Vancouver). And when we’re done, we’ll fly back to Sydney direct from Vancouver. Our old house will be there for us to move into – with lots of boxes to unpack! Fiona’s work is keen for her to come back, so we’ll be back into the swing of work and school again in no time.

We’ll of course have a farewell braai before we leave to say goodbye to our many good friends here in SA. And we look forward to our new adventure, back in Australia. Keep a look out for our next update on our travels….

The McKay family in Stellenbosch

Friday, December 23, 2011

December 2011 update

Well, we’ve booked our tickets, so it’s definitely happening….we’re coming back to Newcastle, Australia, in June 2012. Many things are still up in the air including Niall’s PhD, which won’t be sorted out for a few months. But we have enough certainty to help us decide to come back. Once again we are chameleons - adapting to our surroundings (this one was in our backyard garden - so beautiful!)

While we can live on our savings for a while and live without work and study for now, it is wearing thin. It is with both sadness and joy that we plan our return home. We have all made so many wonderful friends here and had such a great time – we will miss everyone here! But a new journey awaits us….

Our plan is to finish Term 1 of school here, then leave for a holiday mid-April, visiting some friends in Europe and Canada, arriving back in Australia at the end of May. Major flights on the trip have been paid for – just need to organise some of the finer details, which we have plenty of time for.

This month we’ve already had one Aussie visitor, Phil Ireland. We spent the week taking him around the Cape, which was a change from the few weeks he spent locked in at the Climate Change conference in Durban. Niall’s mum arrived early this week and Jeff and his daughter, Julie, arrived last night. After Christmas we’re looking forward to seeing Niall’s brother, Ross, and Sophie and Holly.

The kids have been off school for almost two weeks now and are relishing the relaxed days (although still waking up quite early!) – we’re loving not having to do the transporting to and from school! They both had wonderful reports from school – we’re so proud of them. Niall was asked to do a talk at the school’s Carols service – the kids loved his story about ‘monsters’ and Laura and Connor were very proud of their dad, who now has rock-star status! This week Laura had a few friends over for a very low key sleepover for her birthday, which was all organised by her – and we could mostly sit back and relax. She has lovely friends. We enjoyed a day at the aquarium with our friends - we loved the nemo exhibit!

January brings another house move – this time to a house only a few streets away, thanks to a friend from church who rescued us in our time of house need! We’ll still have a pool and 2 dogs this time – but the owner will look after both (she’s living in the granny flat). The weather has been mostly good, but colder than expected for summer. We’ve been able to use the pool on a few days, but still a bit chilly in. The avocado tree is heaped with baby avos – hopefully we can come back and get a few when they’ve fully grown (after we’ve moved out).

Niall graduated in a not-too-pompous ceremony on a nice cool day (phew!) and then celebrated at night with other Masters graduates from Zimbabwe. It was an interesting night. Fi was asked to come at 4pm to help with dinner, which turned out into a scene from Ready, steady, cook – ie. Here are your ingredients, what are you going to make? Some of the cooking was already underway for the 40 expected guests, so Fi managed to produce some bulk food very quickly with her team of helpers! Then we sat down for the formalities – 2 hours of speeches before dinner. It was a wonderful night of celebration of the hard work of these students and the families and friends that supported them.

Niall and Fi have now got a regular paying gig at a local 5-star boutique hotel on Sunday afternoons (fortnightly), which is going well. After much deliberation (thanks to all those who made suggestions on facebook!), our name is Indringer (meaning ‘alien’ or ‘intruder.’ Basically anything that is not native).

We are starting to say goodbye to people who are leaving in December and others that won't be back before we leave in April; a time of sadness and joy as we celebrate Christmas with family and friends.

We wish you all a merry Christmas and a happy new year.

Monday, November 14, 2011

November 2011 update

Well it’s been another busy few months since our last update. Here’s some of the happenings in our household since July:
* Settled into our new house; so warm and comfy with everything we could ever want and more!
* Enjoyed our housewarming braai with 60 friends and family (over a long afternoon!)
* School production for junior school (Connor was a pirate – aarggh!)

* Music concerts at school with the fabulous marimba band, choirs and the kids did their first public piano performance on the grand piano at school!
* Choir concerts (Fi did a small solo with Schola Cantorum in September)
* Lots of afternoon sports for the kids
* Endless braai’s (BBQs) at our house with fantastic food and company!

* Family Visits
Niall’s youngest brother, Murray, and his wife, Yvette, and 1y.o. daughter, Jemima, visited us in late October. We spent a whirlwind 10 days showing them the sights of the Cape including wineries, markets, Robben Island and a few days at Pringle Bay - a really hectic but fun time with all the day visitors we invited! And they were here for Jessie (Niall’s cousin) & Luke’s wedding – a very casual, chilled, fun wedding!

A week later Fi’s mum, Ros, and her husband, Hilary, came to visit for 10 days. The kids were at school, but had 2 days off to spend with Nanna and Poppy. Lots of sightseeing, lunches, dinners and talking! They went off for another 2 weeks touring SA and Vic Falls (Zimbabwe), they had a wonderful time!

* Excellent school results for the kids
Both kids are doing very well at school. Connor is reading so well and is managing to get faster at completing tasks and now is a pro at colouring in! He loves all the sports and also likes riding his bike and going for hikes with his dad. Connor had 4 piano lessons before we left and started piano at Rhenish in July – he’s made so much progress and learns so quickly. The two kids now play duets!
Laura is excelling at her school work. She made the top 20% of the grade, including Afrikaans, which is fantastic! She came top in Creative Writing and was also given a special award for excellence in choral singing (she’s only been in choir for 6 months!). She was also asked to play a piano item for the award presentation. All her friends keep telling us how lovely she is. They are both fantastic kids!

* Fiona as special guest artist
Fi was asked to be a special guest artist at the school’s Prestige Music Concert in September. After many months of wearing sporting attire (tracksuits and t-shirts) to school, the parents were rather shocked when Fi came out in a ball gown to sing opera and jazz numbers, accompanied by the suave Niall McKay on guitar for the jazz song!
Fi has also been asked to work with some older music students to help with singing technique. The 4 hourly sessions have gone very well and have been a great opportunity for Fi to do some ‘work’.

NOW FOR THE BIG NEWS: Niall has finished his Masters Thesis!!!
Niall submitted his thesis and completed his last component, the ‘defence’, the day before his birthday. The panel was extremely happy with his thesis and work this year and awarded him cum laude, the highest level you can achieve. To finalise everything he had to get his summary translated into Afrikaans (thanks Caroli!) – an interesting requirement for a Uni that has all its post-grad work in English! Anyway, it is all submitted now and he will graduate in December. Now on to the PhD! We celebrated his birthday and the finalisation of his Masters at a (you guessed it) braai with friends and family at our house.

Where to from here?
Well you may ask – as we are! We will be moving house mid-Jan, but not sure where to as yet (the house we’d booked is being sold, unfortunately). Niall is looking into PhD options with Stellenbosch and Newcastle University and scholarship options. Fiona hasn’t found work as yet, so it’s looking like we’ll be leaving South Africa some time in 2012.

We have so much to be thankful for with amazing friends and family around us, a lovely house (and Dottie the dog!), supportive family back home, a wonderful school for the kids, and an absolutely beautiful part of the world to live in (check out the beautiful status flowers in our suburb in photo below). Fi is so taken with the ruggedness and proximity of the mountains and the lovely landscape. Niall likes climbing the mountains. And there is so much wonderful food! Currently it’s strawberry season, so we’ve been eating so many delicious strawberries (AUS$2.50/kg!). Can’t wait for mango season.

We’re looking forward to having more visitors in December - our friend, Phil Ireland, followed by Niall’s mum, Hilary, and her husband, Jeff, and his daughter, Julie, before Christmas. Then even more fun when Ross, Sophie and Holly arrive after Christmas! So much to look forward to….

Please pray for us as we continue to discern God’s will and try to focus on living in the present, not worrying about what will happen in the future.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

July 2011 update

We’ve just returned to Stellenbosch after a 3 week holiday to Johannesburg and a small stint in Botswana and Zimbabwe (Vic Falls). It was wonderful to spend time with the Jo’burg family from both sides. Although we knew it would be good to have a holiday, we had no idea how much we would need it! We’ve had a tumultuous time in the lead up to our holiday with the sudden decision to move house and a break-in.

So before we went away we packed everything up and moved it out, cleaned the house and left all our things in the garage of the new house. Unfortunately the day before moving we had a break-in – they took the laptop and ipods and a game and some fruit (only in Africa!). We weren’t home at the time and everything was covered by insurance; the only thing that’s irreplaceable are some photos on the laptop we hadn’t transferred over to the PC.

In the end, though, we were blessed to find a lovely house, not too far away – and we were welcomed with opened arms.

It was so good to leave everything behind and go to Jo’burg to relax at Niall’s Aunty’s house on holidays! Although this was still a working holiday for Niall, who was now able to get back into his thesis after a few weeks of disruptions.

The kids had a wonderful time catching up with their second cousins ranging in ages from 1 to 18 and lots of aunts and uncles around to keep them entertained. Connor is very close in age to Luke and they got on like a house on fire, riding bikes and scooters and playing soccer and computer games. Laura was adored by the younger girls and mostly happily played with whoever was around (interspersed with escaping to read or do some cross-stitch).

We had a few day trips around Jo’burg, seeing Gold Reef City’s old gold mine and of course going on the theme park rides, dinners out with family, and then a few days at Bela Bela (Warm Baths) where they had waterslides and swimming pools with warm spring water. Bela Bela is a small town about 1.5 hours north of Jo’burg. It was interesting to see what ready-made food they sold at the grocery shop for the locals – lots of pap (like mashed potato, but made of white maize (mealies)), chicken livers and other things I couldn’t work out. We stayed in a lovely B&B – it wasn’t very busy so they gave us 2 rooms instead of 1 (bliss!). On the way home we stopped for lunch in Pretoria overlooking the beautiful gardens and the city. Lovely weather!

The exciting part of the trip was our holiday to Vic Falls and Chobe. We flew from Jo’burg to Livingstone in Zambia. Then we drove for an hour and took a boat to Kasane in Botswana, which is just over the border from Zambia. We stayed at a hotel just outside of the Chobe National Park for 3 nights with all breakfasts and dinners included – so much food! We decided to take it easy the first day after all the travel and time at border crossings (we had been in 3 countries that day already!). The next day we took a morning game drive with another Australian family (from QLD). We saw heaps of game – elephants, rhino, hippos, impala, antelope, monitors, giraffe, crocodiles, but no cats or dogs. It was lovely. We were driven right along the river so we could see the beautiful water and the animals coming down. That afternoon we had a sunset cruise (which we repeated the following day) where we could see the animals coming into the water to drink and swim and play. So many amazing birds, like the Snake bird, which swims with its body underwater, but it’s head above, hence looking like a snake swimming in the water. The second day we saw a baby hippo swimming with its family, a baby elephant crossing with its mother in deep water piggy back style and crocodile snapping and thrashing in the water near our boat and the most gorgeous African sunset. Our third day was also Connor’s 7th birthday so we spent quite a while building his new lego, a short swim (it was a bit cold in!), shopped in town (a short walk away) and then enjoyed a lovely rendition of happy birthday by the staff at the restaurant – he was a bit shy, but coped with the attention well!

Then we drove back through to Zimbabwe where we experienced the African style of border crossings – slow and tedious! But we got through and made our way to the Elephant Hills Resort overlooking Victoria Falls. We decided to wait until the second day to venture into the actual falls after the tiring travel! The resort had lots of game on the golf courses, and the monkeys and baboons come right up to your room (even the 4th floor) looking for food – they can push open doors!

The main thing we remember about this visit is that we got absolutely saturated! There is a lot of water in the falls and you go really close to them. Luckily it was a warmish day so we could dry out as we were absolutely sodden through even with a rain coat on! But it was amazing. Unfortunately we had to wait 2 hours for our next bus home to get changed, but enjoyed a lovely afternoon tea at a local café in the sun. For dinner we tried Mama Africa’s restaurant where we were serenaded by a local group of men who sang and danced traditional African dances – Fi even got roped in to dance with them.

We then enjoyed a few more days back in Jo’burg seeing the family before we headed back to beautiful Stellenbosch. We had originally planned the holiday to escape the wet Cape winter – but Stellenbosch hardly had any rain the whole holiday and was actually much warmer than Jo’burg! Next morning we moved into our new house and quickly unpacked and have settled in. It’s been a week since we moved in and the kids are very happy.

We have a new dog, Dottie, who loves the kids to bits. The house is very comfy and has a pool, pool table, ping pong table, piano (thankyou God!), and fully furnished. It’s a 3 bedroom house with a separate 4th bedroom and ensuite outside (for visitors!) and 3 outdoor covered areas including a lovely upstairs braai area with a mountain outlook. What more could we want? Our landlords are lovely and we’re looking forward to staying here for the next 6 months. Next housewarming, here we come!

On the thesis front, Niall has submitted his first draft. Things are progressing very fast! Fi is still looking for work, but has had a great conversation with a company here – unfortunately just no work at present!

But we do have to count our many blessings - we have been blessed with a new house, fast progression of Niall’s thesis, a scholarship for Niall (which helps us financially) and lots of wonderful friends – and lots of family coming to visit from Australia later in the year – yay! The kids are happily back at school and we’re settling back into life again. Pray for us as we continue to search for God’s plan for us and seek to do God’s will.