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


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