A blog about me and my adventure as an ex-pat.
Because someone told me to... Thank you Gaby.

Monday, December 12, 2011

There's no place like home...

I'm sat in the waiting room at the University of Michigan hospital in Ann Arbor whilst Jeremy is in theatre having another procedure to take samples from his bladder to see if the cancer is anywhere else in his bladder. If it hasn't he can just be monitored every 3 months.

Even though I know it is only a relatively small procedure I can't help but worry when we are here. Each time I say goodbye to him on the trolley I shed a tear... It's so hard to think about someone you care so much about going under a general and being in pain afterwards.

The surgeon has just been to see me. Your heart rate goes up and you get a knot in your stomach when they take you into the consult room to talk. What happened? What did he find? And then relief floods your brain when he says everything seems ok. You forget to ask the right questions whilst your mind is blurred with so many thoughts of relief but reservation until the pathology results come back.

So we now wait until Dec 23rd and the follow up appointment here at UofM. We no longer plan long term, just getting through the next few weeks, the next big hurdle. I can't think or plan too far ahead until I know what is happening now.

We have just returned from a 3 week trip to the UK to see friends and family and for Jeremy to work. So much happened over those 3 weeks that I can't write it all down here.

Like everything in our life at the moment, it was an experience ad it had it's moments. We had a wonderful weekend in Gloucester with my brother, his wife and 4 kids. There never seems to be enough time with them. Getting to know my youngest nieces, marvelling at how much the older boys have grown, catching up on what has happened over the last few months and making time to just enjoy each others' company. But we had a fabulous time and my Sister-in-law sent us a fantastic photo album to capture Somme of the memories from the weekend. We will treasure it and I am hoping it will help the kids to remember the names of their cousins.

That part was quite sad. I could tell that Charlotte felt comfortable with people but she couldn't recall anyone's name. Her whole life has been turned upside down since we were last in England so it is not surprising to me but I know friends and family were disheartened when she didn't remember them and didn't run to them with open arms. The kids that we know all remembered Charlotte and Toby but it will take time for Charlotte to lodge those memories. At the moment she has so many new things to take in that she can only remember the names of people she has seen most recently. She didn't even remember our old house which she lived in her whole life.

After my brother we spent a lovely week in Bristol with Jeremy's parents at their cottage in Tytherington. We spent lots of time with his brother and his family. Their youngest, twin girls, did not feel comfortable with us and cried when I tried to pick them up. More heart ache. But again it is just a matter of time. They are all so young. We had a morning at a garden centre and were pleasantly surprised to see so many people. Family and friends joined us for the morning and we were able to catch up with everyone over coffee whilst the kids played in the soft play. Perfect!

Another weekend and another cottage. This time in the Malverns with my University friends. I have not laughed that much in ages!! I couldn't even tell you what was so funny and there wasn't even that much alcohol involved. Just friends I have known for over 15 years all together with their partners and children, enjoying each others' company ... And a few bottles of wine... And a box of wine... And a crate of beer... And maybe a few cans of cider.... Erm maybe there was a little alcohol involved!! One of our friends came over for dinner and to introduce his new girlfriend... Who we inadvertently got a little drunk! Poor girl! My girl friends and I were all topping up our own glasses with lemonade but what we didn't realise until Dave and his girlfriend left and was that we had all been topping her wine up whilst not really drinking that much ourselves! Whoops! Sorry Christi! I think she had a good night and seemed to like us so all is well that ends well (I hope!)

10 days and on to our next cottage up in Manchester. This is the one and only point that Charlotte got fed up and just wanted her own room and bed. But she was soon excited when she saw our new cottage, her 'special' big bed and we met up with old friends who she seemed so happy to see, she must remember them even if not their names. Amy and her family made us so welcome. It was ace to go to school with her to pick up her son who welcomed us with a huge smile! We spent just over a week in Manchester trying to catch up with as many people as possible. We hadn't been very organised because just a few weeks before the trip we thought we were going to have to cancel it. So I found it quite stressful and was disappointed not to have seen everyone. But you can't plan for illness or for those who were too busy that week.

It was also quite stressful trying to fit 9 months of friendship into just a few hours. I think we did a pretty good job. For the most part, it felt like we had never been away. It's a lot to ask for people to drop everything to come and see us so we really appreciate the effort that people made.

I got to meet a few new people too. A nasty cold and throat almost kept me away from me little baby but thankfully her Mummy was willing to take a risk so we could see each other. What a wonderful few hours I had meeting her daughter and watching our kids play together.

But as was true throughout the whole trip, time went by far too fast and we were ready to board the flight at Heathrow.

It had been great to see so many of our friends and family, to walk through Waitrose and revel in the food choices, to go to the Christmas markets in Manchester and to have so much time with my family.

I am really going to miss Jeremy when he goes back to work and our kids are getting on so well after spending some time together. They are really good friends at the moment which is amazing to see :)

We had a warm reception back in Michigan with a welcome home banners our front door and smiling faces happy to have us home!

As for 'no place like home' I now truly feel like I have two homes. It was great to see everyone in England but we were happy to be back at our house in Michigan - especially Toby who ran all around, with a big smile on his face, so excited and had pulled out almost every toy in the play room within an hour of being back!!

I can't wait to see all of my new friends, to catch up with them and to continue our amazing experience.

But for now I have to keep a eye on my pager so I will sign off and go check the screen for updates.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

kid fun

Just wanted to remember a couple of things...
Charlotte calls her back-pack a hap-pack.
At 21 months old, Toby has learnt a few new words including "No", "More" and "Cheese"!

The big 'C'

Watching films and tv, I always wondered how I would feel when I was told that I or one of my family had cancer. How would I react? How could I possibly cope? Well this year cancer has played a big role in my life.

A good friend of mine had cancer. Had it since he was 12. Someone asked him how he felt having a disease that was terminal and he simply replied, I don't know any different. Unfortunately he was taken from us far too early. When we were saying our goodbyes at the beginning of the year, Gaby was really poorly. He had stopped responding to his treatment for the past 2 years and it was really taking hold of him. He was in so much pain that he couldn't get out of bed until he had taken a dozen painkillers in the morning. I'm sure it was much worse but he wasn't one to openly complain.
So when we said goodbye to him in March I knew I might not see him again. I was able to say goodbye and tell him how much he meant to me, what an amazing person he was. When do you say goodbye to a friend who has cancer. Each time you see them you know it might be the last but you have to stay positive. I felt lucky that I had the chance to say what I wanted to. 6 weeks later, I received the news that he had passed away. I was devastated. Even though I knew it was for the best, that his suffering had ended, it didn't seem fair that someone so young, someone so amazing, was taken from us all. I felt for his wife. Could not believe how strong she was, could not imagine how she could cope with the loss of her husband.
I was able to fly back to the UK and attend his funeral. It was great to be around friends and to be there with everyone. A friend from London was surprised to see me at the funeral and said to me " You came back!" to which I burst into tears and said "Of course I did!"

A couple of weeks after my return, I received a phone call from my Mum. I knew straight away that something was wrong. She told me, very calmly, that at age 60, she'd had a mammogram and they had found a tumour. It had been tested and it was cancer. I had so many emotions running through me. I was angry. Why hadn't she told me earlier (obviously there was no point worrying me but it made me feel much further away). Why did she have breast cancer? When I was 18 she had had a heart attack and ended up needing a heart bypass at age 40. Ever since, when the phone rang, I thought maybe it was bad news, that she'd had another heart attack or that she needed another bypass. My Mum has heart problems, she isn't supposed to get cancer. Everyone I know who gets cancer, dies (I have said goodbye to 3 people over the last few years, taken by cancer). But she said they had caught it early so that was good news and she was to start chemo straight away.
Around the same time, a new friend in the US was also diagnosed with breast cancer. She has been an amazing support to me, always asking me how my Mum is, answering my questions and offering to talk if I ever need someone. She is such a strong woman. She is going through cancer herself but wants to be there for me. Bless her!

So I am dealing with the second blow in one year and just getting my head round those two when it strikes again.

Jeremy had been having some trouble since we moved to the US and thought he had kidney stones or a bladder infection. He had some tests and went off to see the Urologist whilst I went about my day as usual. I was at Toby's gym when the phone rang. Jeremy was on the phone asking if I was sitting down and if I could talk. The doctor had found a tumour. Jeremy was gutted and had a million questions going round in his head. The doctor told him he was too young for it to be cancer but we would have to have the tumour removed and wait for the pathologist results. I was very calm and just told him it would all be ok. The doctor said he was too young and I believed him. We started to look up bladder cancer on the Internet and that is when I started to panic. When you see the survival rates and that some bladder cancer can be terminal.
I went through every emotion of being strong for Jeremy, to planning what I would say at his funeral. Wondering if I could be as strong as Gaby's wife. Wondering how on earth I could live my life without him. What about the kids?!

So we had to stay positive and believe it was something else.
He had surgery to remove the tumour a couple of weeks later. My neighbour had our kids so I could be at the hospital. I was given a pager and cried when I saw the message that he was in surgery. You feel so helpless just sitting in a canteen, waiting. My husband was lying on a bed, with a tube down his throat, undergoing surgery.
A couple of hours later, the doctor came to see me. It wasn't cancer! Yippee! It looked like his prostrate had grown into his bladder. Sounds awful but it wasn't cancer. I remember thinking, are you really going to tell me bad news in front of everyone in the crowded waiting room? But he wasn't, he was telling me he was sure it was ok BUT we still needed to wait for path results. I was feeling so blessed and that everything would be ok.

So I was in complete shock 2 weeks later, when we sat in the doctor's office and he read out the path results. Cancer. They had found cancer cells in the tumour. Wow! How did I feel? Well I couldn't take it all in. I was in shock. Calm but kept thinking, it will be ok. Jeremy cried briefly but we just had a big hug and decided to head home to talk about it. The doctor said it was a very unusual type of cancer and he did not know what it was and how to move forward so was going to refer us to a bladder cancer specialist at another hospital. Everything felt surreal.

And that is how we ended up walking through the doors of the cancer building at the University of Michigan hospital. I could not believe we were there. We had joined a sector of society that I had always dreaded joining. My husband had cancer but no point in panicking, just go and see the doctor and find out what we were dealing with.

He wanted to do another op on Jeremy, to take more samples and see the bladder for himself. He too thought Jeremy was too young but was also wondering if he had colon cancer which had grown into his bladder.

So we were left waiting for another op, more test results, hoping and praying for the best but also imagining the worst. Colon cancer that had grown into his bladder would have to be pretty advanced. How unfair given that for the last 7 years Jeremy had been having regular colonoscopies for his colitis. We knew he was likely to get colon cancer at some point but they should catch it early. We had so many of those what if days.

A couple of weeks later, Jeremy went back to the hospital with a friend for another op. I stayed at home as the kids had been really unsettled and I wanted to keep things as normal as possible. It was so hard to not be there but he was with a good friend who kept in touch with me throughout the morning. Yet again I was at Toby's gym class when the phone rang. This time it was the doctor. I answered the phone and listened whilst he told me the surgery had gone well, Jeremy was doing well but it was cancer. It was cancer. Well I just lost it. I started to cry and couldn't concentrate to ask the right questions. All I heard was it's cancer and it's bad. He needed to take Jeremy's bladder out in the next few weeks, sooner rather than later. I managed to get Toby into the car and rang Jeremy's Dad. He was so good and told me it would all be ok. But how was I going to tell Jeremy when he got home. I should have been there. I should have gone to hold his hand when he got the news. Well it turned out the doctor had told him and he was so brave. When he got home we talked about it, about how he would cope without a bladder. How he was lucky that they could cure it with surgery and that he might not have to go through the hell that is Chemo. Jeremy's calm demeanour and bravery was amazing!

Friends and family were so supportive, on email, on the phone. Praying for us all over the world. People we had only just got to know and those we hadn't even met. We have been so touched by everyone's love and support.

And I have to say the prayers worked. We went back again to the hospital and the doctor said, much to his shock and surprise, the cancer had not spread. They had caught it early and it was confined to the tumour. The tissue he thought was riddled with cancer was just inflammation. He still didn't understand what type of cancer it was, that it is the type of cancer that is normally found in the colon but we have the gift of time. No immediate surgery, just a lot more tests and research to work out a long term plan. He has never seen a case like it and he wants to confer with other doctors across America but for now we could return to the UK and enjoy our trip.

So now we are here, enjoying our home leave. Jeremy has to undergo another op when we get back from the UK, to take more samples but if all is well, he will be tested every 3 months and time will tell.

We are sure he will have to have his bladder removed at some point and his colitis needs to get under control again. They think maybe the two are linked. So maybe Jeremy will end up in a magazine as a test case. A rare cancer caused by colon tissue in the bladder. Fame at last!!

But for now, I am just happy that I still have my husband, in one piece.

Our lives have changed so much over the last year and it will never be the same again. Always looking over his shoulder, wondering if the ache or pain is something to be worried about. Will the cancer have grown back again, how soon, how severely? But we are taking one day at a time. Today we are enjoying seeing our nieces and nephew. The surgery can wait until we get back.

So time for another cup of tea I think and a cuddle with my gorgeous family.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

the Harpers have landed

We are on our first 'home leave' trip since moving to the US. So far the highlights have been seeing family and eating bacon butties and Roses chocolates. Unfortunately the jet lag has hit us all hard. The kids are struggling to sleep at night. Toby woke up at 11pm the first night after only 3 hours sleep and didn't settle until 2am! Charlotte woke up too but soon fell asleep again. We had to put him in with us in the end. Last night he woke up again around 11 and took until 1:30 to settle, again in our room. Tonight he seems ok but Charlotte was wide awake until gone 11pm. It's gone midnight and we are still wide awake. At least of we stay like this it will be easier to readjust when we go back to Michigan time!

So far we have seen Jeremy's folks and my brother and his family. Being at his parents' house feels like we have never been away. They have always lived a few hours away so we are used to being here with suitcases! My Brother's kids have grown up so much in 9 months!! The baby is almost walking, the toddler is talking and almost potty trained, the second boy has started school and the oldest boy has an unbelievable grasp of grammar - he knows way more than me and the language he uses is so grown up!! Where did the babies go?! So good to hold them, talk to them, watch my kids play with them and just spend time getting to know them again.

So what happened when we first landed at London Heathrow?! ... I thought all of the airline crew were putting on posh English accents until I realised I just hadn't heard a London accent in such a long time! I thought the pedestrian crossing with the black and white poles with the yellow flashing beacons on were just for show - fake like a set! I had not seen one for so long they seemed unreal!! I thought all of the cars in the car park seemed really small and the licence plates looked really old fashioned.
All in all it was quite a weird 30 minutes!
I have yet to go to a supermarket, a shopping mall or a restaurant... Places which will make me realise I am truly back in England!

We have lots more people to see and places to go so I will post again soon.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


So I thought I had made a breakthrough... When I ask Toby what my name is he has started saying Mummy, pronounced beautifully! I was very pleased with myself until today, having asked the usual question and got the answer I was looking for, I asked "What is your name?" to which Toby very proudly said "Mummy". D'oh! Oh well I am still proud of him for learning another word even if he doesn't know what it means! Love you gorgeous boy x x

Thursday, November 10, 2011

put your hands up

Ok two quick cute things about Toby at the moment...

When I go into Charlotte in the morning, she is like a grumpy teenager, moaning that it's too bright, that she doesn't want to get up etc etc.

However when I go into Toby he jumps up, squints from the light and starts waving his hands about to tell me that he wants me to pick him up out of his cot. I am making the most of this because, even though he is quite the Mummy's boy, I'm sure it won't last for too much longer!

The other cute (if slightly annoying) thing is his insistence that I am called Daddy! I ask him "Toby, what is my name?" and he replies "Daddeee" every single time! I get the same excited, jumping around, hands waving reaction with the obligatory "Daddeee" if I go to the mail box at the end of the drive or if I leave him for 3 hours! It's funny how they have no sense of time.
So I am working on Mummy but for now just loving his energy!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

coming home...

We are getting ready to fly back to the UK for our first home leave trip and I am not sure how I feel about it.

I am so excited to see people, I cannot even put it into words.

I have got used to not seeing friends and family every day or week. I am just about used to the time difference and knowing everyone in the UK is in bed when I am relaxing in the evening (though it is a nice surprise when I see someone on facebook!). I feel we are settling into life here even though it has been a rollercoaster of emotions over the last few months.

7 months! We moved here over 7 months ago! In some ways it feels like a lifetime... My niece was just a few months old when we left so I barely know her. What a contrast to her brother, my first born nephew, who I got to know so well over the last 6 years. Babies have been born that I haven't met yet and hopefully one more before we land next week! Our children have grown up so much since we left, Toby was only crawling and now is climbing onto and into everything, opening doors and escaping into the garden!
And yet in some ways I can't believe we are going next week! I can't believe I am going to see everyone, be able to hold babies, stroke pregnant bellies, cuddle toddlers and admire the bigger ones!

But what else am I looking forward to? Food? TV? Weather? English accents?

Food - yes there are some things I am looking forward to though we've been lucky to have plenty of visitors who have kept us in supply of tea bags and cadbury's chocolate. I really want sausages, juicy tasty Lincolnshire sausages with mash and gravy. I want to walk into a supermarket and know that I only have to choose what I fancy, not have to check every label to see how much salt, how many preservatives, artificial colours and flavours to mention just a few of the things they put in food over here (and that's just the chicken!).

I have to say that food has been one of the hardest changes and the least expected. I'd been told about the staggering choice of milk (non fat, 1%, 2%, whole, vit d, omega 3, half & half, non-fat dairy creamer...), about the cheese (now there is another thing I am looking forward to - decent cheese in every shop including the co-op and not having to go to the one specific shop who has imported french brie and don't even ask what squirty cheese is!) but I was not prepared for the high salt levels, the additives, the strong flavours and the lack of choice. We can't get everything we want in one supermarket so the 'friday night big shop' has become a week long quest for foods that we are used to, tastes we have grown up with, ingredients needed for the recipes in my English cookbooks. Don't get me wrong, there are lots of new and exciting foods to try (my waistline is testament to that!) but I have had to get used to the food and shopping here.

TV. Have I missed British TV? Not really. I wish I hadn't found out about the ending of Spooks on facebook but the show had run it's course I think and I was starting to lose interest (or had we been planning this move for so long that as a self defence mechanism I talked myself into not liking it anymore?!).
We are still able to watch the F1 on Speed and are used to the way it's presented but I do miss Jake and the team.
And we have found new tv programmes for the kids (Diego, US version of Chuggington and Peppa Pig is aired here, with English accents!) and can still watch our favourites like CSI NY, House, HIMYM as well as discovering shows like Modern Family.
I do watch some shows on BBC America and am always surprised when the American ads come on and I remember I am not in the UK!
I missed my lunch time soaps at first but more because I used to laugh about them with a friend and miss that interaction. The other soaps seem ridiculous when you find out what has happened since you left.

I have stopped hearing the American accent as different and think I will be shocked when I hear Charlotte talking to our friends' kids. She sounds so different to me but the neighbours still think she sounds English! I'm not sure what will happen when she tells Grandma she needs to go pottie... I have a feeling my Mum will panic as they don't have a potty and then laugh when she sees Charlotte taking herself off to the toilet (she was still in nappies when we left).

I am very excited to rediscover the UK, to see all of our friends and family but also a bit nervous. I have forgotten how to drive a manual car, how to drive on the left hand side of the road and hope I go the right way round the roundabouts! I am nervous how we will feel being back 'home' when really home is where the heart is and we are building a new home here (however temporary). Will I realise how much we have left behind and not want to come back to America? Or will everything have changed so much, everyone moved on so much that we feel like aliens in the UK?

So much to rediscover, lots of which I have probably forgotten about or put out of my mind as self preservation. We have thrown ourselves into life here to make the most of it. I am embracing life here and making lots of great friends along the way. There is no point worrying about how long we are here for, where we will end up and when but life here will go on hold for a few weeks whilst we rediscover England and all of those who we have left there. We have not forgotten any of you and can't wait to see you all again!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

speaking of which...

The clocks 'fell back' last night and our kids managed to stay in bed until 7:30. Sounds good but they are still adjusting!

I am not sure what has got into Charlotte but she has not stopped talking since she got up. Which has made me think about our accents. Although I think I still have an English accent I know I have adopted many American words or phrases. It is just easier to say trash can, stroller, yard, shopping cart and so on. If you don't then people just do not understand what you are talking about... With some hilarious consequences! Jeremy was talking about getting ourselves ready for bad weather and having supplies in the basement. He told our neighbour that he had stashed a torch within easy reach. Well that had our neighbours imagining that we had shipped some sort of prehistoric flame device from England until they realised he meant a flashlight!

I find myself trying to remember which is the English pronunciation and dropping words in without even thinking about it.

But the biggest change is Charlotte. She goes to school 3 days a week and watches American kids' tv like Diego and Chuggington. And after being here for 7 months, listening to her non stop commentary this morning, she sounds so different to us. Her accent has changed so much and to me she sounds so American now. I love listening to her talk and find myself copying some of the things she says.

It will be really interesting to see what people think of her accent when we head back to the UK in a few weeks. I know there is one person who will be correcting me and that makes me smile.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Bonfire night

So it's bonfire night in the UK but we didn't miss out completely as our neighbours set out 2 fire pits and a load of furniture on their driveway. 3 sets of neighbours hung out there tonight, eating s'mores, drinking beer (or in my case a cup of tea!) whilst the kids played out in the street or in the back yard.

I love impromptu nights like this one and love that we moved into such a friendly neighbourhood.

Friday, November 4, 2011

soft touch

Toby is stood in front of the television, with his thumb in his mouth, tenderly fiddling with a label on his pyjama bottoms which he found on the floor.

He is so cute when he does this. He can be happily playing, running around, laughing, but as soon as he spots a label poking out, he stops in his tracks and goes into a trance as the thumb goes in and he is in heaven as he feels the material on the label.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Pyjama party

Charlotte's friend Mia has pyjama day at her preschool once a month which often coincides with our weekly play date. When she arrived at ours one week, dressed in her pjs the girls took themselves off upstairs to play. After a little while we went upstairs to check and Charlotte had undressed and got into her pjs, complete with her princess night time pull up pants! This has continued pretty much every week since and now Charlotte packs a bag with pants and pjs to take over to her friend's house. It is very cute to see them playing together, especially in bright pink pjs!

Monday, October 31, 2011

happy halloween

Wow I love Michigan in October!

Someone asked me today if spending Halloween here is like it is in the movies and yes it is! From Jack-o-lanterns on every doorstep to friendly ghosts and witches everywhere, to getting the kids dressed up in fun, bright costumes to go trick or treating, I really do feel like we are living in a movie!

We have had a lot of fun this month. We have done so many things that I wanted to capture a few here.

There are the simple things like driving round the neighbourhoods and past shops and schools, looking at all of the fabulous decorations which have been up since the beginning of the month. There are ghosts hanging from trees, witches crashing into trees and doors, dozens of pumpkins carved into jack-o-lanterns or just sitting by mail boxes or on front porches. And some people have grave stones, scarecrows sitting on chairs, orange lights and even 6ft tall inflatables in their front yards.

I love the colours. The trees are desperately clinging to their leaves, still glowing red and yellow but also many of the decorations here are bright orange, lime green, purple and black. I always thought Halloween was black and white but here the house is bright with orange and purple window decorations, bright spooky houses on the shelves and pumpkins hanging around the kitchen.

We went to a place called Gull meadow farms to pick out our pumpkins. This was something I had seen on the tv and was very excited to do it. They had all sorts of things for the kids to play with including bouncy inflatable 'pillows' like a flat bouncy castle, hay rides and of course hot cider (not alcholic here!) and donuts to warm up. We had a fun evening in the sunshine, playing and riding round the farm on the wagon then chose our pumpkins. The kids are old enough to choose their own and help pull the little red wagon to take them to the car - cute!

We have done plenty of trick or treating already and it's still 4 hours until the official start of trick or treating on our neighbourhood! We have been to Jeremy's work where the staff decorated the offices and meeting rooms amazingly! Each room had a different theme and only a couple were spooky. Halloween here is a festival, a holiday, a celebration. It's about fun and treats.
There was trunk or treat at Southridge church last night. We went along with our neighbours and it was cute to see Charlotte and her friend collecting candy together and playing games. People from the church decorate the trunks of their cars, dress up in costumes and hand out candy. Even their dogs joined in with the dressing up! (The supermarkets are full of costumes for dogs - honestly everyone here gets dressed up!) We also went to ZooBoo at Binder Park Zoo in Battle Creek. The zoo is decorated with hundreds of pumpkins and even the big bug sculpture at the entrance was dressed up! Local companies sponsor booths where you can trick or treat and there were fairground games too. We went with our friends and their little girls. Charlotte is best friends with Mia and they had a great time together.

There was also a fall festival at Charlotte's school and costume week at her ballet dance class. The kids have had so many opportunities to dress up and they love it! Charlotte has a bee and a witch costume and Toby has borrowed a few (he is growing fast so we needed a few choices!) including a bat, a pumpkin and Nemo!

There was also the 'famous' Spooky house near our house. Every year they dress the house up for Halloween and I have heard many people saying they avoid it as it is pretty scary! Their windows are boarded up, there are cobwebs hanging from the roof and they have put up a huge fence with statues garding the entrance. I counted about 30 carved pumpkins and they have a dozen stakes in the front yard with skeletons hanging from them dressed up. This year they added a small shed with rows of skulls displayed on it. Spooky! We took a ride up there during the day and every time we drive past now Charlotte points out the scary house!

Michigan is such a fun place to bring a family up. We are very much looking forward to trick or treating with friends, neighbours and family tonight. We live on a big housing estate which is a popular trick or treating spot and people will be driving in around 5:45 to collect their goodies. We have bags and bags of candy (I've been told to expect over 200 kids!) so hopefully we will have plenty to hand out.

It is so exciting, each season brings a different reason to celebrate, gather together with friends and rejoice!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

friends are worth their weight in gold

Someone told me recently to see the positive in everything, even when times are tough and it feels impossible to think there could be a good side.

Well we are going through a really tough time at the moment. I can't even begin to write how I feel about it all, but one thing has really struck me this week. And that is the power of friendship. 

I am a believer in a problem shared and I always want to help people. If someone tells me their problem I instantly want to help fix it or find a solution. But I am not very good at receiving help which is pretty hypocritical, I know! 

Well since we have told people about Jeremy's bladder tumour (which we recently found out is cancerous) we have been brought to tears by the love and support not only our family has given us but our friends have shown us too. 

There are people back in the UK who have sent us lovely emails which have been very touching to read. I sent out lots of emails to tell people what was happening and asked that people reply with their news, that we love hearing of news from home, however mundane it seems to them. So many of our friends and family replied. It made me realise how many amazing people we have left behind in the UK. All the years of friendship that we know will stand the test of distance and time.

And there are our new friends. Our neighbours and people I have met at MOPS or through Jeremy's work. They have all been amazing, offering emotional and practical support. We've had people babysit the kids at short notice, bake us cookies, cook us dinner, offers of help from everyone. We feel so blessed to have met so many wonderful people who want to help us so selflessly. 

And here is my positive in all of this. My relationship with Jeremy is stronger than it has ever been and I know we can get through this together but I have also learnt a lot about friendship.

So all I can say to them is thank you, you don't know how much it means to us that you are there for us. 

first crush

We decided we wanted to get Charlotte interested in Disney Princesses so whilst we were in Chicago we went into the Disney store. And there we saw Rapunzel who had long flowing hair. At the time, Charlotte would not let me lay a finger on her hair, I couldn't even brush it, never mind tie it back! So I thought that the princess might inspire her... Little did I know just how much!

We also bought her the film on DVD so she could understand who Rapunzel is (and because we want the excuse to go to Disneyland so best get her interested now!). Well she loves it!! We watch it several times a week and over the last few weeks she even just asks for the music on my iphone so she can dance round the room.

She knows the film so well that she recognises the music and knows which part of the film the music is from, even the pieces without words. But her favourite character, the one who makes her face light up, the one who makes her jump up and tell me it is their song is Flynn. Flynn Rider becomes Rapunzel's prince, though he is a bit of a bad guy at the beginning. So I believe this is Charlotte's first crush! And to be honest I don't blame her - he is really quite dishy!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

chatty man

A few months after Toby was born we realised that he couldn't hear. It turns out that he had 'glue ear' in both ears; a fluid that had built up behind his eardrum and was impeding his hearing to the point where he couldn't hear very much at all.
It took until he was almost one for all of the fluid to drain. 
As a baby he didn't coo or gurgle. I remember seeing him sitting at playgroup, quite happy but in his own little world and he didn't react when you called his name. 
Then one day at playgroup I knew his ears had cleared because it was like the light had be turned on and he suddenly realised all of these other kids were around him. His little face lit up and it was amazing to see him discover a whole new world.
And now, at 20 months old, he is starting to talk and the cutest thing is to listen to him in his room in the evening, chatting away to himself and laughing. 
Of course he has started talking with an american accent, saying words like 'there' and 'yeah' just like his sister.
I like their american accents but it is weird that they don't sound like us... well for now ;-)  

daylight robbery

Quick cute story about Charlotte...

We babysat for our neighbour at the weekend - we had 3 year old Cooper and baby Brooklyn over for a couple of hours.
Charlotte and Toby love their neighbours and enjoyed playing with them.
When their Mum came to get them, Brooklyn had fallen asleep on me so I offered to keep her until Jen had got sorted at her house and put Cooper down for his nap.
Charlotte was pretty tired too so we were crashed out on the sofas in the living room. She was chatting away to me when she sat up to say something and looked at me. Her face then fell and she looked appalled when she said to me "Oh Mummy! Baby Brooklyn! ... You have to give her back!" It was so cute bless her! She was so upset with me.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

precious morning

This morning was an unusually quiet one with both kids still fast asleep after 7am. It was also a school day so I had to get the kids up and ready to leave by 8:30. I went into Charlotte's dark room and picked her up from her bed, waking her from her dreams. I cuddled her as I carried her down the stairs and continued that hug for a good while on a chair in the living room. Her little warm body all curled up in my lap, her head resting on my chest. Heavenly. I wish we could have stayed like that for longer but time was getting on so we got our breakfast and sat down at the table. We hardly said anything, just quietly eating our breakfast,  making eye contact whilst we carefully ate our cereal. Quiet is something that neither Charlotte or I do well. But I did ask her if she had enjoyed her week with me (her Daddy has been working away all week) and she nodded her head. Then said "Mummy I love you". Four precious words, enough to make your heart swell and know that today will be a good day. And so far it has been. She was in such a good mood this morning, laughing along as she helped me get herself dressed, Toby dressed and find coats and shoes so we could leave on time for school.
Life has it's ups and downs, it's good days and bad days but I am sure this morning will be one that I remember for a long time.
Thank you Charlotte, I love you too x

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

falling for fall

Having proper seasons is one of the reasons why I really love Michigan.

Though when we arrived in April we did not know which season we were in! Our first few days were filled with sunshine and a taste of the chill factor. Within 4 weeks we'd seen snow, rain and had a day in the high 80s. That first month felt like a year and not just because of the weather. For me the days seemed to last forever and I remember thinking, was that only last weekend!! The kids did really well with adjusting to our new time zone and surroundings but given they were so young they couldn't tell me how they were feeling so they showed it with almighty tantrums in the supermarket carpark (thanks Charlotte!) and clinging to me every minute (bless him!). 

But a couple of months down the line and we had started to get to grips with everything, Charlotte was in preschool / daycare a couple of days a week, Toby was walking and learning how fun independence could be and June brought fantastic hot sunny weather along with our first visitors.

As I drove up Texas Drive and Milham I saw the trees fill with leaves and the landscape completely transform into lush countryside. Suddenly we couldn't see the park at the back of the house as the garden is lined with tall trees. It is like living in Centre Parks and brought back memories of wonderful holidays in the forest.

Each season also brings the most amazing and colourful flowers. Spring blossoms in bright purples and pinks that are so vibrant you would have thought the trees had been fed food colouring. Tulips on porches, surrounding mailboxes and lining roads. Masses of reds and yellows and pinks. We went to the Tulip festival in Holland, a town about an hour north of us, where there were tulips as far as the eye could see in every shade of red, purple, pink and yellow. We have even bought some bulbs in an attempt to recreate a piece of Holland next Spring. 

And autumn has not disappointed with the trees turning red, orange and yellow. But it was all over too soon and now the leaves are starting to litter the ground and once again we can see the park. Charlotte was looking out of the window of the car yesterday and said "Mummy it looks like Winter" which is too true. Before we know it, the temperature will drop (it's still in the 70s this week) and the snow will fall. Toby was sat on a plastic tray in the kitchen yesterday, I think he was practicing his sledging skills - it certainly looked like that! I am really looking forward to all of the fun that is to be had in the snow and experiencing a 'proper winter'. I am sure the winter will be long and hard but that will make the first blossom of spring all the sweeter.

Thursday, October 6, 2011


is an art form whose medium is sound and silence.

Silence... I'm not very good at that but music has become even more important to me now than ever.

Anyone who has heard me 'sing' knows I do not have an ounce of musical ability (if I could change one thing about myself it would be that I wish I could sing in tune, just a little bit!) but I love how music makes me feel and how it reminds me of all sorts of things.

Growing up my music taste was pretty limited. I loved singing along to my Kylie Minogue and Wet Wet Wet tapes playing on my walkman. I remember getting Madonna's True Blue album for my birthday one year and listening over and over again. I won Queen's 'The Miracle" record when I was 12 in a dancing competition at my school 3-2-1 disco and fell in love with their music. I love everything they have done and wish I could have seen them live. I thought Freddie Mercury was the best singer I had ever heard.

I forget how old I was when my Mum and Dad said they wanted to take us to the theatre to watch a musical. I think they must have taken us the year before to watch a ballet which completely bored me because I was adamant I did not want to go. Anyway they tried to convince me to listen to it on tape before we went but I was having none of it. Well I had no choice and off we went to the theatre. And how wrong was I?! There and then began my love affair with musical theatre. It is my number one treat night out and I can't wait to take the kids to see a show when they are old enough to sit still for 2 hours! I have seen many many shows in the wonderful theatres in Manchester, travelled down to London and the magic that is London's West End and I have even been lucky enough to see Phantom of the Opera on New York's Broadway and a couple in Chicago.

Charlotte is in love with the film Tangled which is fine by me because I quite like listening to the songs in it and have even downloaded the album to my phone to listen to it in the car! We were all dancing round the living room last night to a couple of the songs. Both of the kids love dancing to music. Charlotte loves twirling her skirt or using the fireplace as a stage. Toby goes to music class at Gymboree and loves playing with all sorts of noisy instruments. His dancing is limited to bouncing up and down or turning round in circles but it is ever so cute to watch!

Seeing Toby enjoy listening to music is even more special as he could barely hear anything after he was born. At some point in the first few months he developed glue ear (behind his ear drums was filled with lots of think glue type liquid) which meant he could only hear very high pitched things. He seemed to be happy in his own little world but when it cleared up at around 9 months old it was like a light was turned on for him. he no longer sat on his own at playgroup, looking surprised when he realised someone was there too. He was in awe of all the things he could hear and the noises he could make. He is still quite behind with his language but in the last few weeks has made huge steps and can say things like "Daddy, Mummy and No" which is very funny.

I met an amazing group of people in 1996 and music was a big part of our friendship. I have so many memories linked to the music of the 90s, to the music festivals 'Glastonbury' and 'V' and to many many crazy fun nights out in Manchester. Happy times at huge house parties at '105' in Leeds, hanging out at friends' houses, staying up all saturday night listening to music, friends playing Oasis and Blur on their guitars and me listening in awe and trying to sing along (quietly!). Weekends away in a cottage in wales, taking it in turns to play our favourite tracks, music to keep you awake, to dance to and music to soothe a hangover. Thank you Mr Tebb for convincing me to listen to Stevie Wonder. I remember you suggesting it and all I could think was - the guy who sang the cheesy tune "I just called", seriously?! But you asked me if I trusted you and I did and how I now love to dance around to "Sir Duke".

I realise now how lucky I was to grow up in Manchester. The city is full of clubs and I have enjoyed many nights dancing for hours in indie clubs like the Ritz with it's bouncy dancefloor (how could they close it down?!). I remember walking in there with my friends and wondering what on earth they had brought me to... Student night on a Monday began with Goth music, moved through indie and rock music and onto dance music. The foam parties were quite an experience and there are too many songs to mention that remind me of good times and past relationships. Songs that made us run from wherever we were because we just HAD to dance to that song. The Funkademia nights with funk and northern soul music. One of my best friends and I would dance for 3 or 4 hours only stopping to get another bottle of water or a shot of tequila to keep us going. We would get home around 3am with black feet from all of the dancing on the grim dancefloor, too exhausted to have a shower!

Music is amazing in it's power to take you back to a time or a place, to stir happy or sad emotions. Music that makes me smile or reminds me of the best days of my life. The first dance at my Wedding (Wouldn't it be nice by the Beachboys) or the song that was number one in the charts and playing when I walked into the theatre to give birth to my son (Fireflies by Owl City).
I hope my children grow up with a love of music and maybe just maybe they will have inherited some musical talent from their Uncles.

We have been going through a stressful time at the moment and have had 2 hospital trips where I am sure only by pure coincidence, an older lady has been playing a piano in the lobby both times. The thing is one of the songs was one played at Jeremy's Granny's funeral. It made me think that she was telling me that she is up there watching over us. Who knows...

I have formed so many special friendships through or with music and there are so many songs on my itunes that remind me of them. Music makes me feel closer to them all now but also further away. I often put my itunes on random play and the tracks will remind me of a friend or a night out whilst I am driving around. This morning it was the 'avalanches' which will always take me back to '105'.

And on to new friendships and how music can unite you and give you common ground. Meeting someone and finding out one of their favourite tracks is from the same movie as yours. Just one of the many things we have in common and makes us feel like we have known each other for years even though it has only been a few months.
I have also met someone recently who shares a love of 90s Manchester music, even though she grew up thousands of miles from where there. I am looking forward to sharing music with her and listening to her favourite tracks.

So to all my friends and family, know that I listen to my tunes every day and they remind me of you all. I often have a smile on my face as I recall all of those happy days which are so special to me.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

the big move

So how did we get here? On an aeroplane!

No seriously, what brought us to America and how was the journey?

Well I met my husband Jeremy at work. We both worked for the same company but in different departments. I had been asked if I wanted to work out here at the headquarters but the time wasn't right so we declined. A Wedding and a daughter later, in 2009, Jeremy was asked if he would like to take an assignment out here. We said yes but put it out of our minds as we were busy welcoming our son into the world.
In May 2010 the ball finally got rolling and we started to plan our new life. Jeremy had been offered a 3 year assignment to work in Global marketing. After a lot of organisation in March 2011 we packed the last of our things, said our goodbyes and boarded the plane.

Saying goodbye to everyone was so hard. We have family and friends spread out all over England and lots of gorgeous little people, some of whom we had barely had time to get to know before we were saying goodbye. Even with such a long time to plan the move it still felt like we hadn't had enough time with everyone.
So hard to say goodbye to friends who had been through so much with me and were a big part of my life. To say goodbye to a friend who didn't have long left on earth. To cuddle the little ones knowing they would be so much bigger next time I saw them.

There have been days when I would have loved to walk through the door of a familiar house, get cosy and spend time with my best friend. Days when I ached to pick up those little ones and give them a big cuddle. Sad days when I received bad news and just wished I could go home to support loved ones.

I think about my friends and family every day. Wondering what they are doing, where they are, how they are doing. I am glued to facebook and email, looking out for glimpses of their lives. Of course there is Skype too which is amazing but not the same.

But we are very excited to be starting a new stage of our lives. To be living the American dream. America is big and exciting and even the small things make me smile. There is so much here to explore, so many new friends to meet, so many memories to make.

The actual move is very stressful. Your life is literally turned upside down. Seriously - when I asked the men from the removal company to empty every box I did not quite mean for them to dump it all out onto our bed! It was like we had been burgled!
There are lots of practical things to sort and the first few weeks are a massive learning curve... How to drive on the other side of the road, find your way round the huge supermarkets, get your Michigan driving licence and pay your medical bills.
We have been blessed with a beautiful house and amazing neighbours who have helped us settle in. One of my neighbours often knocks on the door with a coupon for a clothes shop or an article from the paper about a fun place to take the kids. And for the first few months, I had a wonderful ex-pat who was an absolute angel. She greeted us on our first day at the house with a boot full of food shopping and toys for the kids. Such a shame that she had to move back to the UK recently.

But a lot of that initial stress is behind us now and forgotten with the passing of time. We are settling into the neighbourhood, Charlotte into school, Jeremy into work and Toby has lots of things to keep him amused during the week. But more of that later.

Well I have a little lady sitting next to me reading the Veggie tales bible so I will say bye for now so I can spend a precious few more minutes with her before she goes to bed.

the start of something new

So I finally made it to blog-land! I have been meaning to start this for 6 months now and have finally sat down to put pen to paper, well fingers to keyboard.

Why have I decided to write a blog? For a number of reasons...

I spend most of my days with my toddler and preschooler and as amusing as they are, I spend a lot of time having conversations in my head so why not write those thoughts down.

I have a terrible memory and want to save as many precious moments as possible.

I have moved many thousands of miles away from family and friends and want them to know what is happening in our lives.

I hope one day that other people new to the ex-pat life may read this blog and know what a roller-coaster it is.

And because someone told me to. So in memory of him, here I am, hoping to amuse you, inform you, share with you and hoping not to bore you!

As I sit here now (well hanging off the edge of the chair as my 20 month old son is trying to climb onto the chair too) I am looking out over the trees and the green grass of our back garden. The sun is shining and I am rejoicing in all that Autumn has to offer... Stunning autumnal colours as the trees change from green to yellow, gold and red. I drove past a row of trees yesterday that honestly seemed like they were on fire. The heat from them was amazing. I wish I could have stopped the car and taken a photo but I would have caused chaos so I just have the memory of it and the joy of driving past them most days on the way to my daughter's school.

I have attempted to decorate the house for fall (forgive me for mixing English and American terms - that is how my life is at the moment - a mix of two countries!) and Halloween with a mix of home-made and shop bought decorations. I have diversified my craft skills somewhat since I have been here and am loving looking at them every day in the house.

On that note I have also considered employing the professionals and have to sign off now to talk to a man about Christmas lights!

So rest assured I will be back soon,

Bye for now