Wednesday, 14 September 2016

ms havachat and the quest for creative, online photo albums

Do you leave them on your phone? WHY???????????

Do you upload them to your laptop and have them play in an endless cycle when the laptop is in sleep mode? WHY?????

Do you have them printed and make photo albums?

Do you create on line albums?

I used to make photo albums with real photos. I'd design the page layouts, and create headings, have the photo's developed then sort them out into chronological order before placing them into the albums to be admired and appreciated for years to come.

Then I switched to making them online - cheaper, quicker, more creative options, fabulous coffee table quality.

Then, the online company I was using decided to no longer be compatible with Apple (or maybe my new MacBook Air is the issue) either way I haven't made an album for quite a few YEARS and I'm freaking out.

This hasn't happened overnight.

I've been looking for what seems to be ages for a replacement online photo album company, but none of them seem to have the range of things the one I was using had - and I would love so much to be able to have it all again.

About 4 years ago, I used a different company as a comparison and didn't like the result. The quality of paper was different, there was no option for a flat-spine, so the perfect-bound spine is all cracking and you can't open the book flat to see the entire photograph.

We've done several holidays since, and all the photos are sitting on the laptop waiting to be made into albums.

I guess my issue is simply, I am years behind in my photo albums which is simply not like me at all and I'm wondering does it matter?

No one's asked to see them photos.

No one's gone looking for the memories.

Maybe one day they will ....... or not.

I believed taking the photos and creating the albums was important family documentation. One day, I won't remember or I'll be gone and MissM will go to the album, relive the memory because I spent time writing the story of the photograph for prosperity. She'll be overcome with emotions - happy ones I hope (cos who puts sad photos into albums?) and her expat kid life will be there is a pictorial diary, readily available.

Which house?
What year did we go to (insert place) for holidays?
Where were we when (Insert visitors name) did (????)
In grade 3, my friends were ..............
At (insert school) I went on (insert field trip)
I turned (insert birthday) (insert house)

The list goes on.

We're all so caught up in taking photos on our phones and uploading them to social media - has this replaced the urgency and desire to have them printed and seen in albums? We can create online albums on our FB pages, give it a title, and add pics any time.

Random FB photo page found on Google Images.

When we travel, we have the photos on our phones plus the ones on the 'big camera' (which I have to admit we don't always take with us anymore cos the phone camera's are so good). Is the impetus to 'see' the pics removed because we've commented and shared them already?

Camera phones are so convenient and the technology is great!

A friend, who is single and has no kids does not take photos. She travels A LOT and has been to many amazing places and still does not take photos. WHY, she asks me? They are 'my' memories and I'll remember them. No one wants to have to clean out decades of memories.

I have always thought that's sad.

Maybe that's the case with us.

Maybe, deep down, MissM doesn't want the albums either.

Maybe my not being able to find a reliable, creative online album company is a message that I'm to not bother.

On days like today, when I'm home with nothing specific to do, I know I could very simply work on the albums. Then I get stressed to the max trying to make them work ...... then give up (which so isn't in my DNA).

Maybe when the MacBook Air dies, I'll make sure my next laptop is compatible with the online software I prefer then I'll spend months going back over years of photos filed away, creating albums.

Gosh I hope I remember where we were!

With friendship

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

ms-havachat discovering Surrey - Mayfield Lavender Farm

My gorgeous photo of Mayfield Lavender Farm


I have definitely learned to appreciate gardens and flowers since living in Japan.

Ikebana has taught me to see the beauty in a seasonally dead branch, to appreciate Mother Nature's artistry in the colours of tulips, and to believe in the possibility of tomorrow in each bud of spring. I love the simplicity of 'less is more' in floral design, and yearn for a garden of my own in which I grow an "English country garden' overflowing with blooms throughout all the seasons.

The gardens we visited in Japan were stunning in their precision. A simple rock bed with a trickle of a stream. The heavy trunks of ancient trees supported by wooden struts, themselves works of art. Even the way the trees and shrubs were loving enveloped in protective cloth to ward off winter chills were beautiful.

The Botanical Gardens in Sydney are beautiful, set alongside the Harbour with magnificent views of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge. Always a lovely way to spend a few hours. Here's the link to their website if you'd like to have a quick peek at what's on offer.

Sydney - Stunning city skyline

Another stunning garden you must visit when in Sydney is Wendy Whitely's Garden in Milsons Point. Fairies definitely live here! Her late husband, painter Brett Whitely would be so pleased with what she's done with the old railway lines in front of their home. If you'd like to learn more, click here for a link to a documentary on the gardens, or Google it.

A small glimpse into the  magic of Wendy Whitely's Secret garden.
In Ireland, Glendalough was a family favourite and a special place where we would take visitors. The lakes and walks changed with the seasons, always offering something different.

We live very near to Saville Gardens in Surrey, the Great Windsor Park and a quick train trip to Kew Gardens. The New Forest, near Southampton is also a favourite of ours and a lovely day trip from Surrey.

I don't know the first thing about gardening, or the names of most plants but as I get older, I'm drawn towards them. Not sure I'll ever actually garden, but the dream of owning our own home one day, and designing a garden is strong.

Thanks to Facebook shoving sponsored posts onto my page I discovered Mayfield Lavender Farm. It's been in my diary TO VISIT for months, and I'm pleased to say, I went over summer with MrsM.

As you drive over the hill, you can see a hue of purple. It's truly stunning.

The aroma from the 25 acres of organic lavender is intoxicating. You can feel it buzzing on your lips as you get out of your car. The car park is dusty and pot holed, so you do need to be sure footed and wearing appropriate walking shoes.

Rows and rows and rows of lavender. Not a bad photo from my phone.
Wish I'd bought the big camera tho. 

Mayfield Lavender Farm is a family run business in the area known as North Surrey Downs.

I've never been to Province in France, only seen photos of fields of lavender, and I imagine Mayfield is pretty close.

There are several types of lavender grown here, and all are harvested and turned into oils, creams and food by the family for sale on the property. I can tell you, the Lavender afternoon tea was delicious, as is the lavender honey.

The cafe serves a small selection of sandwiches, salads etc, and seating is very casual. The cafe part is temporary as the farm is seasonal. It adds to the charm of the place.

The bees are amazing here! They are so busy collecting pollen they don't even know you're there, tho if you were allergic, it's probably stay away, just-in-case, as they are everywhere. Sadly none of my photos with bees turned out but trust me, they are everywhere and gloriously fluffy!

Borrowed from Mayfield's google images

There's a small nursery where you can buy various types of lavender.

My photo.

And you can go online at to purchase other lavender products made from the lavender grown on the property.

If you go onto their website, or Facebook page you'll see amazing photos of people having fun amongst the lavender. You can purchase a 'photography license' for the day and have your engagement or wedding photos done professionally here too.

MrsM and I thoroughly enjoyed our few hours at Mayfield Lavender Farm and we hope you do too.

With friendship

Friday, 2 September 2016

ms-havachat Makes Sense of Hello Goodbye

Happy anniversary to us.

One year and 2 weeks ago, we moved to the UK for our 5th Adventure (aka UK part 2) and life is good. We've settled so well and that's to do with the school, the community and the friendships we've made.

MrsP and I were chatting a while ago and she suggested we chat about how one digs deep to get ready for the annual Welcoming of Newbies as she was struggling having waved goodbye to several BF's over summer. She's working on energy to go meet the newbies and 'start over'. On the other hand, chatting with MrsS, who has arrived in her new city, she was also working up the energy to be the newbie again .... so it works both ways.

There's a great line in one of MissM's Barbie movies where Barbie (playing the role of a fairy) asks 'Why are there so many settings at the table? Who else is coming?" and the Queen Fairy replies " All our friends we haven't yet met" (or words to that affect)

I love it!

Friends we haven't met yet.

This is exactly what these past few weeks have been like. The long summer is made even harder to bare sometimes as friends move on to new adventures and you're left behind, or YOU pack up and move on.

We are constantly meeting friends - and saying see-ya later to others (never goodbye, that's way to permanent and sad).

You might recall our chat about girl dating. If not, here's the link

I'm not sure I have the answers to how we keep going ..... the hello's and see-ya's, but we just do, cos the alternative is an ever smaller social circle, especially for those expats who are 'long term'. For those of us, like me, who churn over every few years, there's a huge difference psychologically to being the one who leaves and the one who stays.

Leaving is full of mixed emotions - in most cases, sad to be leaving but excited to be going somewhere new (or maybe not. Maybe you're over it and want to settle down)

Staying is full of mixed emotions - sometimes it's phew, we're still here, aka still employed (especially when others in your industry are moving on);  content to do another contract; sad to see BF's move on to new adventures or repatriate (there can sometimes be a bit of envy if that's the right word with either of these); the feeling of resignation to 'here we go again' with a bunch of excited newbies to befriend and ultimately settle on a few new BF's who know you from this point in time and not the past.

There's huge personal confusion at times being an expat, separate to any anxiety you might have about not being 'home' with family and friends.

My role/s on committees this year are WELCOME oriented.

It means I get to meet most, if not all the newbies and the initial conversation is always funny:
- where have you arrived from?
- how long were you there?
(if you have lived there, or know people who are there you might ask a few more questions)
- what grade are your kids in?
(then you would offer to introduce them to others with kids in same grade)
- where are you living?
(then you might introduce them to someone you know who lives close by)
- are you or your partner working?
(then chat a bit about that)
- what do you like to do in your spare time?
- mention the local International Women's Club, or another club relevant to her interests)
(introduce them to others with similar interests)

The longer we are away from home (10 years in January), the more my thoughts wander to what it might be like to repatriate - what will I miss from this life? And to be honest, I think it's this - the opportunity to meet and make new friends, to have friends all over the world, to have different ideas and influences affect me and encourage me to think and grow as a person; I am so not the same person I was when we left - I think I'm better because of all the friends and acquaintances I have met.

Let's face it, you're not going to like everyone you meet, nor they you - but there's something polite and friendly, respectful about expats that's maybe missing from the general community.

At this time of year, when we feel like the last thing we want to do is open our hearts and homes to 'new' friends, it's also the most wonderful time, full of possibilities. If you're reading this and you're the newbie, take a deep breath and walk out your front door - go to an event at school, or to the local IWC ..... no one know's you're here unless you tell them. There's oodles of friends waiting for you.

To all the people who reached out to us when we were newbies, thank you!

You are my role models. I recall your kindness and friendship often.

To those who didn't and made settling hard and lonely, thank you too cos you showed me I had inner strength and resilience I didn't know I had and you have made me a better expat, simply because I know what not to do.

Where ever you are, what ever your circumstances I hope you're making new friends,

With friendship

ms-havachat on Belonging

Back in June, before the long (northern hemisphere) summer school holidays started, we chatted about Volunteering at School (revisit chat here).

Did you put your hand up for anything? OHHHH, do tell! How's it going?

I did ...... on two Boards (aka committees).

I told G about one, but not the other for a few weeks as I knew he'd flaunt his eyes at me and smirk (which he did LOL)

Fortunately I'm a rather organised person, and have learnt a thing or two over the years about committees and feel like I can juggle the two, and as luck would have it, they are intertwined in many ways.

I'm on the School Board (which to me sounds like the governing body, which it isn't - it's the school parents committee) in a high profile social role which suits me down to the ground and I'm really enjoying it.

I also ended up on the International Women's Club Board which is something I really didn't think I'd do here, tho I'm actually very pleased it's worked out the way it has.

This means:

  • Two separate Monthly Board Meetings to prepare for and attend
    • Two reports to be written
    • Two lots of minutes to read and address
  • Two General Monthly Meetings to participate in
    • For one position, I plan/host a regular event held every 4-6 weeks
    • For the other role, I am on the planning/hosting team 
  • Sub-committees
    • Nominated for one official sub-committee on one Board
    • Trying not to get on any sub committees on the other Board (early days yet)
  • Between the two Boards, there's 20+ potential new friends, or at the very least, acquaintances from several countries.
  • Lots of new skills to learn from the other Board Members
  • The opportunity to influence change and share my experiences and ideas (a couple have already been accepted on both Boards which is rewarding)

Beyond the work side of things, being nominated and accepted is really pleasing as it reminds me  
that despite my occasional big mouth, and loud opinions, my liberal opinions and my occasional lapse of diplomacy, that I have a wide social circle, and I'm part of the community. 

Most of us like to feel like we belong. That we fit in. That we have a tribe to hang out with. These things are possibly even more important to an expat, who moves often. If we're here for just our contract, which is 2 years, we don't have time to fluff around! We'll be gone before we do anything!

We've been here just on one year ..... minus all the school holidays ...... it's not that long in the scheme of things to establish a life, make friends, build trust, and feel at home. 

The women on both Boards are so interesting. The diversity of careers, education (some with no degrees, some with one others with several),  skills etc is awesome! And that's BEFORE you learn about their expat experiences! I think that's one reason expats gravitate towards volunteering. We can't necessarily work depending on visa status, so being involved on a committee allows us to use our brains and skills - some take things a tad too seriously sometimes, but it all works out in the end. 

It's still a good idea when you're new to hang back, sussing things out before wanting to commit. But it's the best way to avoid mistakes and taking on too much or doing something you really don't enjoy.
Our school board is itching to ask newbies to 'get involved' and I've cautioned them to be calmer about it. 

Just think when you were new and all the things you were busy navigating on behalf of the family - getting involved in a school event is the farthest thing from your mind! Happy to join in, but organise, forget it! We need to allow newbies to settle in, suss out the opportunities then pounce on them.

So, with todays meetings agenda printed out, and last weeks (other) board meeting minutes approved, I'm happy I found a few minutes to bash this out and share with you as it's been a while. 

I'd love to know what committees you are on, your role, what you love about being involved, your plans for the year ..................

With friendship

Saturday, 6 August 2016

ms-havachat discovering Surrey - French Brothers Ferry Rides, Windsor

My photo, shame about the grey sky.

Windsor is an easy day trip from London. There are numerous coach tours there or you can catch the train, or hire a car for flexibility. London Waterloo train station to Windsor about 55 minutes and about the same by car (of course, this totally depends on time of day etc). Parking can be expensive and difficult to find as locals shop/live in the area.

Once there, tour of the Castle, stroll the shops, enjoy a meal, do the Hop On Hop Off Bus tour and then wander to the River Thames for a relaxing hour or so before returning to the rush of London.

The Thames River starts in the beautiful Cotswolds, flows through London and out to the North Sea for a total of 210 miles. There are 45 locks, an abundance of bird and sea life, and many opportunities to enjoy the river by boat, punt, or simply strolling on the paths alongside it. The section that flows past Windsor is pretty and offers visitors another opportunity to enjoy Mother Nature.

A few weekends ago, I went on a short cruise on the Thames from Windsor with MIL, on the boats provided by French Brothers. Despite the grey clouds, we had a pleasant 40 minutes on board one of the old fashioned boats. I just might have to do the trip again, simply to get better photos!

Google pics photo

The boats leave often enough so there's not much of a wait, tho on a sunny day, in high tourist season, I would recommend purchasing tickets when you arrive so you can plan the rest of they day around the cruise. We only waited 15 minutes for the next cruise so decided to stroll along the river. We were surprised how the pedestrian path had no fencing on the rivers edge, as we're used to that sort of public safety protection in other parts of the world. There were LOTS of swans and ducks eagerly feeding by the river edge from food bought from the ticket office by tourists. Not sure who was having more fun, the swans and ducks or the kids!

Once on board, the audio guide started and it's interesting enough, tho it did you leave you wanting more. At some points, the guide seemed to be ahead of where the boat was which was frustrating. I'm sure there's a LOT MORE history and interesting tidbits of information to be learned about this part of the river, especially when you consider Windsor Castle, Eton College and other famous places along the way.

I recall a story about this bench and concrete wall having something to do with the boys from Eton College but not the details. Thought it made a nice photo even against the grey skies.

The "Chinese Bridge"should probably be painted red for authenticity was still very pretty. I took the photo before the commentary started to explain it.

The riverbanks are home to swans and ducks and numerous other bird life, and also fish. There were several people fishing, and we had peek-a-boo sights of the Royal Windsor Race Course thru the trees.

There are 45 locks along the length of the river. While Oxford isn't that far away, we were told it would take a few days cruising to get there (a) the cruising speed on the river is slow, and (b) the number of locks you go thru. If you're interested, here's a link to The Royal River Thames website.

I loved the various boats on the river. It bought back childhood memories of holidaying on the Hawkesbury River from Bobbin Head in New South Wales as a kid with mum and dad. We'd hire Halversen boat for a week or so and cruise the river. Might suggest something similar to G for our next staycation - a few days punting on the Thames between villages.

Stock photo of a Halverson.

People live on the Thames. Sadly, in some parts of London it's causing congestion and frustration, not the sort of things one would expect an idyllic lifestyle to do. As London real estate continues to spiral out of control upwards, living on the river is proving to be a cost effective way to live IN London.

It was really enjoyable watching the changing shoreline - from overgrown trees to cycle tracks, walking paths, the racecourse and then suburbia. These houses were beautiful!

The finale photo opportunity is Windsor Castle from the river, the way it's been seen for hundreds of years.

I sincerely hope you enjoy your time on the Thames at Windsor,

With friendship

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

ms-havachat Discovering Surrey: Dining at Marco Pierre White, Windsor

Our family LOVES Marco Pierre White. Our 12 year old daughter might be one of his biggest fans, even tho she probably wouldn't eat most of the food he cooks (she has a very selective palette, so maybe, she SHOULD meet him and he could influence a few more foods into her diet)

Marco appears regularly as a guest judge on Australia's Masterchef, and while he's a bit gruff, he's also full of affection for the contestants, and food. He expects nothing less than each person giving 100% of themselves, what ever that might be. We giggle every time he peers over the top of his glasses. He's one of the those people who, when silent, says a lot.

We smiled often at the YES MARCO he would shout to the contestants, and they'd repeat, a tad frazzled YES MARCO.

This saying about dreams is something our daughter really liked.

My husband ate at MPW in Dublin and still, over 12 months later, still talks about it. Still not quite sure how we never ate there.

Thanks again, Google images.

Long story short, there's a MPW in Windsor at the Castle Hotel. We'd walked past a few times and commented how we should go one night .......... last week my husband did something he seldom does. HE made a reservation for dinner without consulting me and we had one of the loveliest date nights we've had in a long time. (Usually I'm the social director. Who's the social director at your place?)

The entrance to the restaurant is just to the right of the entrance to the Hotel and, if you know of Marco's personality (or at least the one he shows on television), it's VERY him. There's a definite presence about the place.

L: Walking thru entrance of Hotel.
R: Restaurant reception, with Marco peering down, watching.

After a warm welcome, we were escorted to our table. The restaurant was busy for a Monday night, with several tables of diners already seated, drinking and looking at menues. G had already looked online and knew what he was  having for dinner, so it was left to me to decide. Even tho it's a steakhouse, I opted for seafood and G had lobster followed by pork (which we don't cook at home).

Entree: Crispy Devilled Whitebait (Delicious)
 Marco's Lobster Macaroni (YUM!)

Mains: Seared YellowFin Tuna with Panzenella Salad (OMG YUM!)
and Pork Belly Marco Polo (SO GOOD!)

Sticky Toffee Pudding - the waiter poured the sauce for us.

We sat and chatted between courses.

We drank wine.

We had a thoroughly enjoyable evening.

We are looking forward to going back soon.

There's a kids eat free offer which we'll do before MissM starts school in a few weeks as a celebration of the summer holidays.

If you're local to Windsor, and you dine here, I really hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

With friendship

Monday, 25 July 2016

ms-havachat's Discovering Surrey: Great Fosters, Surrey, UK.

Great Fosters courtesy of a professional photo on Google Images.

Great Fosters in Egham, Surrey is a 17th century mansion house, overflowing with history.  Great Fosters is a magnificent boutique hotel offering a variety of dining experiences and private gardens.

As a Grade 1 listed building, Great Fosters has been placed on the Statutory List of Buildings of Special Architectural or History Interest.  It means it may not be demolished, renovated or altered without special permission form the local planning authority without consulting the central government agency to ensure what work required is done within keeping with the original building (thanks Google search)

Simply put - it ensures the magnificent history of architecture continues to be enjoyed, along with the history of the people who once lived/worked within them.

It's why millions of people travel to the UK, Ireland and Europe - to experience the history the buildings offer.

Great Fosters is also a local icon. It's on the list of places one might go with overseas visitors for a 'special meal' or a celebratory afternoon tea. They are also a popular venue for weddings and offer several private dining rooms for bespoke experiences.

I was so touched when MrsC invited me to lunch there for my birthday recently. I had heard so many wonderful things about the place, and G and I had thought 'we'll leave it for a special occasion' so to be taken there was very special.

Having not been before, I was gobsmacked from the moment we drove into the place. When I saw the building, even thru the rain I could see how stunning it was.

The entrance door is delightful! So tiny, and unique. The porters must have fun schlepping suitcases in/out, but for me, absolutely the most gorgeous door I have ever walked through.


The lobby takes your breath away. I simply LOVE Listed Buidings! I know my BFF MrsH in Sydney would positively love this place. Every nook had something special to offer. The luxurious chairs, the floral displays, antique furniture - they don't make lobby's like this very often anymore.

Lobby, taken with my phone camera.
We were greeted by several staff with simple smiles and a soft 'good afternoon ladies' and at reception told that 'someone will be with your shortly to escort you into the restaurant'. How exciting!

We had a glass of champagne next to the windows overlooking the gardens (which I will definitely need to visit again as it was raining), and then escorted to our table in The Estate Grill, one of several restaurants.

The view entering the restaurant. 

I think I might have gasped out loud!

The light!
The ceiling!
The colour scheme!
The decor!

One of the most serene and beautiful dining rooms ever!

MrsC and I were in awe (she's had afternoon tea here before, but in a different room). We looked like twits walking around ooh-ing and aah-ing and taking photos, but didn't care.

Seriously felt like we were inside an old church. The ceiling
was so high and decorative. This photo does not do the room justice.
My camera didn't capture the room as well as this professional photo

The waiter was so patient with us, and once we were seated and calmed down, he explained the tapas inspired menu, then left us to consider our choices. The sommelier joined us and said he'd be very happy to help us choose wines to accompany our dishes once we'd made our selection, or he could recommend a bottle of wine - we chose the bottle hehehehehe

Lunch is served ........... it was artistic, colourful, delicious.

Beetroot, walnut, apple and puffed rice

OMG the quail!!!!!!!!!!!! Described on the menu 'hay roasted stuffed quail"

Sumptuous Salmon ..... sured salmon, oyster, gin and cucumber.

Sensational scallops ..... scallops, lomo, fennel


We only had coffee to finish. 

What a lunch. 

A truly memorable and so special birthday treat from my dear friend MrsC. 

If you know you'll be in the area, you absolutely have to make a reservation to dine here, at the very least, enjoy afternoon tea and let me know what you think. 

PS: This blog is totally independent of Great Fosters. They don't even know I was going to write one. 

With friendship